J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings universe popped to life in Peter Jackson’s “Fellowship of the Rings” trilogy, and started anew with his “Hobbit” series. Some considered expanding the shortest of the books into three films a questionable choice, but Jackson’s lofty vision adds Tolkien lore and concepts. Thus, the Hobbit trilogy uses the novel as a foundation, tacking on new scenes which further consolidate and link the Lord of the Rings world. Following in the footsteps of 2013’s “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” Jackson’s finale “The Battle of the Five Armies” concludes the epic with riveting action, emotional conclusions, and clever ties to the Fellowship narrative.
“The Battle of the Five Armies” picks up where “The Desolation of Smaug” left off, with Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) hurtling toward Laketown. Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), and the Dwarven pack stare helpless as the dragon rains fire upon the unsuspecting citizens of Laketown. Bard (Luke Evans) escapes captivity and smites the menacing dragon with a black arrow.
With Smaug dead, the expected peace settles in briefly, before the mass descent upon the Lonely Mountain, or Erebor. However, the Woodland Elves, led by Thranduil (Lee Pace), march upon Erebor, demanding jewels which lie among the treasure horde. The men of Laketown, commanded by Bard, seek the payment promised by Thorin. Afflicted by dragon’s sickness, Thorin barricades the gate of Erebor, sequestering himself and his Dwarf followers. His cousin, Dain (Billy Connolly), joins the fray, offering assistance.
Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Saurman (Christopher Lee), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) uncover more pressing threats. The Orcs mount an offensive with Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) and Bolg (John Tui) at the helm, with the intentions of claiming the strategically beneficial fortress for Sauron the Necromancer (Cumberbatch). Coming to aid in the skirmish are the Eagles, with Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) and Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt).
As in Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit, after Smaug’s death there’s a brief question what can possibly occur now that the dragon is killed. The intricately crafted political factions, each with differing motives, stomp into picture creating a standoff at the foot of the Lonely Mountain. Director Peter Jackson takes this a step further, going into much more detail and tying his Hobbit trilogy into the previously released Fellowship trilogy. Foreshadowing abounds, such as Saruman’s offer to deal with Sauron, and Thranduil’s suggestion that Legolas visit a man called Strider. Additionally, Gandalf’s incarceration in Dol Guldur and the legions of Orc armies he witness foretell the coming events.
As the sixth entry in a multi award-winning series, it’s difficult to finalize such an immersive journey. Jackson perfects the final chapter with his remarkable recipe of action, comedy, and sentiment. Like “The Desolation of Smaug,” part three opts for a quicker pace, foregoing the Dwarven songs and lengthy set up. There’s much more fighting, as the titles suggests, albeit at the expense of character interaction. The wonderful, taut dialogue maintains, but the highly enjoyable group dynamics present throughout “The Desolation of Smaug” are sparse. Don’t expect a scene as perfect as the barrel ride.
Yet Jackson’s conclusion to the Lord of the Rings cinematic journey ends on a much more clever and emotional note than its predecessors. A bevy of familiar characters reappear, including Radagast, Beorn, and Saruman. A few key characters perish in battle, though thankfully on a J.K. Rowling level, not George R.R. Martin scale. Nonetheless, it’s a moving finale, aided no doubt by the fact that this is likely the last Lord of the Rings film from Peter Jackson and crew. The ending segues seamlessly into the Fellowship storyline, picking up with Bilbo on his 111th birthday (portrayed by Ian Holm). “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” satisfyingly closes the expansive Tolkien Hobbit universe, while bringing the trilogies full circle. A riveting film that feels half as long as its run time, “The Battle of the Five Armies” serves as a fitting finale to a grand series, and one of 2014’s best movies.