The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies has a fantastic pre-title action sequence involving a showdown between a heroic archer (Luke Evans) and the dragon Smaug. Tellingly, it could have been the climax of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the previous film in this three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. It’s as if the producers knew that this final movie was mostly going to be a series of faceless military formations, and therefore wanted to get one last squeeze out of the charismatic Smaug.
Without the dragon – or Gollum, the slimy scene-stealer of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – we’re left with the worst of the indulgences of director Peter Jackson, here helming his sixth Tolkien film. Monsters drool, dwarves muster, elves leap and hobbits scurry, as the movie essentially transforms into a feature-length battle sequence. It becomes the equivalent of watching a game of Risk, with all the emotional involvement such an activity would inspire.
To be fair, there are moments of respite with our hobbit hero Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the grand wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen, who deserves a medal for putting on his game face in all six pictures). And there are some impressive bits of derring-do amidst all the swinging battle axes. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) has a scintillating escape from a collapsing bridge, while a throwdown between Thorin (Richard Armitage) and an orc leader on an icy lake comes to a cleverly anti-climactic ending, followed by the ghostly image of the orc’s body floating past Thorin beneath the ice.
Unfortunately, that scene isn’t content to come to such a neat conclusion, and so we get a deflating, horror-movie addendum. In a way, that’s emblematic of this entire trilogy. The Hobbit is a series that has never known when to quit. Why would the final installment be any different?