They say that the most important part of any adventure is actually the journey and not the destination, but then if I’m being honest, I don’t think that the person who first coined that phrase ever had to grind their way through a trilogy that isn’t quite working. Be it The Hobbit, The Matrix or Pirates Of The Caribbean, we all hope they’ll eventually turn out like George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels and ultimately justify an audience sticking with its missteps to provide an ending that makes the whole thing worth it – and maybe gain questionably immortality by spawning thousands of memes.
Up until now, Peter Jackson’s Hobbit series had been mostly coasting by on good will, but despite the occasional magnificent sequence (Bilbo’s awe inspiring chat with the dragon Smaug is easily as good as anything in the Lord Of The Rings trifecta), there was a profound sense that beyond the mercilessly stretched material, Jackson’s heart simply just wasn’t in it. Still, here we are, at the beginning at the end (or considering prequel rules would that be at the end of the beginning?); could the Kiwi maverick manage to pull out one more big finish to bring us there and back again?
After waking and royally pissing of the dragon that had conquered the Dwarf city of Erebor, the company of Thorin Oakenshield look on in horror as the fiery death-lizard known as Smaug descends on the lowly city of Laketown to spew vengence everywhere like petulant napalm. However, as the people flee for their lives amid the inferno, honorable fisherman Bard the Bowman lives up to his father’s legacy and sticks a specialised arrow right into Smaug’s sweet spot sending the pernickerty wyvern crashing back to earth with a fatal bump; but with Smaug vanquished, what is to be done with Erebor and its endless riches?
Thorin, already afflicted by the greed enhancing ailment known as “Dragon’s Sickness”, immediately demands his company go on red alert, barricading the entrance to the Dwarf city and sneering at Bard’s pleas for him to aid the displaced people of Laketown while he rampages through the riches, searching for the symbol of his people, the Arkenstone, but unbeknownst to him, word of Smaug’s death has already spread.
Following the motley survivors of Laketown is a sizable Elven army led by the willful Thranduil who has come to demand the return of some valuable trinkets of his own and hot on their heels comes a Dwarven army led by Thorin’s cousin, Dain Ironfoot, to provide back up for the new owners of Ereborn. However, as sticky as this situation gets, matters get even worse when another army rocks up looking to lay claim to the mountain (ain’t that always the way, you wait three movies for an army and then three show up at once); but this newest foe means business as it’s an immense orc force led by Azog the Defiler who has a major score to settle with Thorin and his entire bloodline.
With Gandalf hastening to the scene after dealing with that nasty Necromancer business and Elf ass kickers Legolas and Tauriel also playing catch up, it’s down to diminutive last hope Bilbo Baggins to try and desperately talk Theoden out of his madness before it’s all too late.
So before I go on about how Battle Of The Five Armies pulls off a last minute save of the Hobbit trilogy, I should still bring up the fact that Peter Jackson’s sixth outing to Middle-Earth isn’t without its faults, most of them systemic. Firstly, for a trilogy named “The Hobbit”, there’s precious little for Martin Freeman’s Bilbo left to actually do except plead with Richard Armitage’s paranoid Thorin, pull a classic cut and run with the Arkenstone and then promptly get laid out cold when the battle kicks off in ernest. It’s an issue that blights a lot of other characters too despite a 164 minute running time (extended edition, of course) with Gandalf wrapping up his cameo stuffed side mission early only to find that no side of the titular battle is willing to listen to him and Luke Evans’s Bard also weirdly being surplus to requirements once Smaug is snuffed and the people of Laketown united. Even Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel, a much touted addition to the all-male main cast of Tolkien’s original novel, hasn’t really much to keep her occupied aside from chopping up CGI orcs and fawning over Aiden Turner’s Dwaven bit of cracking, Kili. Hell, other established characters such as Radagast, Beorn and the majority of the thirteen dwarfs barely even get dialogue which is strange when you consider how much time we’ve spent with them.
However, where the film does come through is with the Battle Of The Five Armies, a huge skirmish that sometimes comes in danger of dwarfing (pun intended) the the immense Battle Of The Pelenor Fields from The Return Of The King and with its bizarre array of nightmarish orc and troll variants (one blind, flail-armed beastie looks like he’s been hanging out with the Cenobites from Hellraiser) and imaginative fantasy violence, you can tell that Jackson is finally having fun.
Of course, if Jackson’s having fun then it means that certain characters are in for a tough time of it and where the third Hobbit movie finally finds its stride is with the suprising body count the story amasses. While Lord Of The Rings kept its fallen heroes to a minimum (Boromir and Theoden by my count), The Hobbit ratchets up the emotions by having Fili and Kili slaughtered and having Thorin fatally wounded after his final battle with Azog which technically means the bad guys win as one of the items on their to-do list was to end Thorin’s bloodline. It’s a sobering end to a trilogy that’s force-fed us endless scenes of whimsy such as extensive crockery juggling and rabbit sledding and the fact that its ended with actual ramifications makes a huge amount of difference – especially when your movie is essentially one long battle scene.
Theres still an issue with Jackson’s prequels being too CGI-y – Billy Connolly’s mohawk sporting, pig riding, all-computer generated Dain being a particular affront – but years after its release, it’s simply not worth losing too much sleep over; if we eventually made excuses for the eerie, pixelated sheen of the Star Wars prequels then the moment when Legolas defies gravity while running up falling rocks as he metaphorically flicks the V’s at physics itself shouldn’t be that hard.
After a winding journey in both plot and quality, Peter Jackson finally brings his second Tolkien trilogy home with some style and a butt-load of imagination (you feel there might have been a week long meeting just to come up with all the creative orc deaths alone) and if some of the foreshadowing gets somewhat invasive – at some points you honestly expect some characters to point directly at the camera, wink and say “see you next time!” – it’s a fitting end to Jackson’s rule of Middle-Earth with any thoughts of him adapting The Silmarillion being dropped like a bad Hobbit…