Cert 12a | ★★★★☆
When Peter Jackson approached Billy Connolly to play the fiercest of Tolkien’s dwarves, he asked, “Have you read The Hobbit?” and Connolly replied “No, and I don’t like people who have.
His comments, said in jest, nevertheless encapsulate the franchise’s reputation for being somewhat nerdy and inaccessible for those who have neither the time nor the inclination to delve into Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. But Jackson’s film adaptations glory in the mythology, packing in every map, appendix and Elvish song.
His decision to drag one children’s book out into three, three-hour epics has made The Hobbit’s pacing feel uneven compared with The Lord of the Rings. An Unexpected Journey was dominated by walking and folk-singing, leaving all the action to The Desolation of Smaug. And frankly, once Benedict Cumberbatch’s thunderous dragon left the frame, there wasn’t much else to see.
The Battle of the Five Armies does exactly what it says on the tin: every creature you’ve never imagined fighting it out for some serious riches and the future of Middle-Earth.
This lack of narrative sets it free from the burdensome folklore, resulting in the most accessible film of the trilogy. When Tolkien’s tomes are out of the way, the focus is on the spectacle, which is what Jackson does best. It veers seamlessly from large-scale recreations of Roman battle formations to smaller David and Goliath confrontations.
Punctuating the violence is Martin Freeman, the franchise’s underrated hero Bilbo Baggins. He’s perfected the art of playing the straight man, and is the indispensable voice of normalcy here, our projection of self in this strange land.
Another highlight is Jackson’s sub-plot between dwarfish Kili and elvin Tauriel, a new character created for the films, which brings a much-needed touch of humanity. There are only so many immortal elves and burly dwarves a film can take before it becomes an expensive game of Dungeons & Dragons.
While the ending may seem overly pleased with itself with its neat overlapping with the Fellowship of the Ring, it is satisfying nonetheless. Plus it only ends once, which is more than can be said for the Lord of the Rings.
Overblown and overlong it may be, but the level of commitment and attention to detail in this trilogy is just as breath-taking as the last. It’s the end of an era for Tolkien fans, but these films will surely endure as the definitive adaptations of his work.
CRITICS’ CHOICE: FILM
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