Back in 2001, audiences worldwide took their first step into the world of middle-earth. Now, thirteen years, five films and a handful of Oscars later, Peter Jackson guides us back into this magical land. One last battle awaits. One last film. One last time.
The Battle of the Five Armies picks up directly as the Desolation of Smaug leaves off, with Smaug heading to the peaceful village of Laketown to rain fire and destruction upon them. Marvellous as this is, it doesn’t last long, and the main focus of the plot is based around – you guessed it – the battle of the five armies. It’s split pretty deliberately into three parts. The opening is visually striking and action packed, the middle serves as the calm before the storm, as each army gathers their forces and begins to advance on the Lonely Mountain, and the finale…and what a finale it is.
The name of the film alone should tell people that this is going to end the saga on a bang, rather than a whimper, and it sure as hell doesn't disappoint. The battle is long and spectacular, and apart from the duel between Thorin and Azog, doesn’t feel self-indulgent, as some extended fight scenes do (we’re looking at you Man of Steel).
This could be because of how much is actually going on. Had it been handled sloppily, a battle scene between five armies could have been messy, and become tedious – it’s a battle that lasts almost an hour! But it never reaches this point thanks to the smart division of attention. Part of the battle takes place in the ruins of Laketown, part goes down on the plains in front the Lonely Mountain, and part of the time is spent on Thorin, and his steady descent into madness brought on from the gold, and his insatiable desire for the Arkenstone.
It’s here that Richard Armitage gets a special mention. He shines in this film, more than any of the other two, playing Thorin as both menacing and sympathetic as he goes insane and becomes gradually more sinister towards the others in his company. In traditional Hollywood fashion, Thorin overcomes his personal demons, and the thirteen dwarves charge from behind the walls of Erebor and join their dwarvern brethren (led by a freaky looking CGI Billy Connolly).
This is where we hit one of the more ridiculous moments of the film. Connolly and his dwarf army are hopelessly outnumbered and backed against the wall by the legions of orcs before them, facing their inevitable death…until those thirteen dwarves manage to turn the tide…what? I get that they’re all warriors and strong, and I can even get on board with the appearance of Thorin rallying the troops, but there is no way that thirteen warriors, no matter how strong, were able to turn the tide of that entire battle.
Balancing out the film though is a fight that I’m sure lots of people wanted to see. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, characters like Saruman, Galadrial and Elrond are shown as incredibly powerful warriors, but save for a few displays of said power, they never really do much. Until now. Watching Elrond and Saruman take on the spirits(?) of the nine lords of men who received the rings of power (i.e, the black riders), before Galadrial unleashes her full wrath just made me grin from ear to ear. At last we get to see what made this trio so feared and respected, and trust me, it’s awesome.
The film is also littered with references and easter eggs, and provides a little more insight into things mentioned in the LotR trilogy. Things such as Angmar (as in: Witch King of-), and Bilbo receiving the Mithril vest that he passes on to Frodo. Any fans of the saga will definitely have a few moments of “ahhhh!”.
On the subject of Bilbo, he has a surprisingly small role in the film. The majority of the attention is divided between Thorin, Gandalf and Bard. Even in the battle, Bilbo serves mainly as a messenger, warning the other dwarves about the approaching force from the north, before he takes a blow to the face and remains unconscious until the battle is over.
From the spectacular opening to the explosive finale, The Battle of the Five Armies isn’t only a suitable conclusion to the Hobbit trilogy, but a fantastic send off to what is undoubtedly one of the greatest fantasy sagas of this generation. It manages to blend the darker, grittier, battle scenes of the LotR trilogy, with the more fairy-tale-like tone that the Hobbit has maintained. Leading perfectly into the beginning of the Fellowship of the Ring, the Battle of the Five Armies cements Peter Jackson as a master of his art.