After travelling for weeks over the rough terrain of Middle-earth, running from orcs and hiding from elves, Thorin (Richard Armitage) and company are finally where they needed to be: chasing the dragon Smaug out of Erebor. In the third and final instalment of The Hobbit trilogy, there’s more running from orcs and hiding from elves as Thorin succumbs to dragon sickness, lusting after gold and refusing to give up his title of King under the Mountain. The battle that follows is catastrophic and will change Middle-Earth forever.
In a break of tradition, there is no pre-title card scene at the start of The Battle Of The Five Armies, replaced by long and complicated lectures about the history of Middle-Earth. It picks up exactly where it left off, with Smaug leaving his Lonely Mountain lair and sweeping through the twilight sky towards Lake-town. Then it’s straight into the meat of it. It’s bam! Dragon. Bam! Fire everywhere. Bam! Residents of Lake-town flee for their lives.
From there, the action never seems to stop for almost two hours. Much as the title suggests, almost every spare moment features some variation of face-off or pile-up, but they are all pretty awesome. They’re very big and very loud and, physics and gravity aside, each fight sequence feels like a treat, with Bard (Luke Evans) versus Smaug, Thorin versus Azog and the White Council versus the Necromancer among the best of them.
There are also several subplots to follow to break up the action a little. Thorin’s obsession with his inheritance almost overshadows the main battle, as he grows suspicious of his dwarf brethren and his motivations and ambitions begin to warp into something darker and more ugly. The Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), Fili (Aiden Turner) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) love triangle is back, making a prominent appearance that is bitter, sweet and finally believable. It’s never going to win over those who already made their mind up that it was the dumbest thing ever in The Desolation Of Smaug, but the fans who had their icy hearts melted will likely remain pleased as they see the torrid affair to the end. However, when the Master of Lake-town’s repellent manservant Alfrid (Ryan Gage) tries to make it on his own after realising none of Lake-town actually respects him, it results in a half-hearted shtick that is both unfunny and unnecessary.
Even though it’s the last one and contains more deaths than it does minutes, the balance between drama and comedy remains the same about the same as it was in the first two films, just on the right side of perfect. A lot of Martin Freeman’s comic timing somehow comes from Bilbo just staying silent, but he also manages to get a few good hobbit-y quips in. Likewise – and probably a surprise to no-one – Billy Connolly plays a perfect Dain Ironfoot, the dwarf King of Durin’s Folk, continually cutting through the tension of the battle with well-placed one-liners. Connolly’s appearance is made even better when you forget he’s in the film at all, and then suddenly a very Scottish and very unmistakable voice emanates from under a helmet.
As an end to a hit saga, it’s no Return Of The King (which was, frankly, a perfect fantasy film). However, it’s brutal, exciting, entertaining and beautifully ties into the Lord Of The Rings, including a few references to the trilogy that fans will adore. The journey is finally over, and it will leave you breathless, filled with nostalgia and with a strong need to weep.