Thirteen years ago, in 2001, Peter Jackson first introduced us to his vision of Middle Earth. It was there that we were welcomed to The Shire, where we encountered Hobbits, Elves, Orcs and Men, where we witnessed battles for power, freedom and for good. Jackson brought about a trilogy of films, from Fellowship, through Two Towers until Return of the King, which brought an epic magic into the life of fans and, for many, became something truly special. In 2012 we learned that Peter Jackson, taking over from Guillermo Del Toro, had agreed to step back into the world penned by the great J.R.R Tolkien for his interpretation of The Hobbit. Initially planned as a two-part spectacle, before being finalised as a three-part series, fans of The Lord of the Rings movies were now on tenterhook’s awaiting their impending return to their favourite fantasy world.
With An Unexpected Journey launching us back into Middle Earth, with Bilbo Baggins’ adventure beginning as he joined a band of dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, to reclaim their home of The Lonely Mountain, it was a film that divided opinion, but for many, myself included, was a welcome return to a beautiful land, an entertaining and exciting film that kicked the new series off with a gigantic thud. In 2013, last year, we saw the release of The Desolation of Smaug, the middle-movie in The Hobbit Trilogy. Better received and offering more action and bigger and more impactful moments, this was a fantastic instalment to the series and ended with a heart-in-the-mouth cliff-hanger that left everyone who saw it wanting more, and awaiting the third and final film in the series, The Battle of the Five Armies (originally titled “There and Back Again”).
I will state my place, before I get into the nitty-gritty, that I’m a fan of Peter Jackson as a director, and especially his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. I think they stand truly in a league all of their own when it comes to fantasy cinema, and I am yet to see adventure movies, or fantasy epics that look, sound and feel as important, as exciting and as rich as they do. I have loved every entry in the Middle Earth Saga, and so I was obviously going to be highly anticipating the final chapter in Bilbo’s journey, and the link between this trilogy and the Lord of the Rings films. The Desolation of Smaug saw our army of dwarves find their way back into Erebor and come face-to-face with the dragon who took their homeland, Smaug. We ended the movie with Smaug battling with the dwarves before crashing through the walls of Erebor and flying in the direction of Lake Town, proclaiming his intention to rain down dragon-fire.
With The Battle of the Five Armies we begin where the previous film ended, and we find ourselves in Lake Town and Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) spewing out flaming death upon it. It is in these early moments that the first major sequence takes place, with Bard (Luke Evans), standing atop a bell-tower, shooting arrows at an attacking Smaug. His son, seeing this happening from a distance, brings him the black arrow that they had hidden in the last movie. Here, using his son’s shoulder as a rest, we see Bard shoot the arrow into the old wound of Smaugs chest, killing the former dragon under the mountain as Lake Town crumbles in the flames below. A shocking opening section for those unfamiliar with the book, though expected otherwise, this opened the movie in a strong and action-packed way. In this sequence, we also see our first character deaths, with The Master of Lake Town and many residents being killed in the aftermath of Smaug’s attack. We go to Erebor and learn that Thorin (Richard Armitage) has Dragon-sickness, an obsessive haze falling over him due to the gold at his fingertips. Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the other dwarves are worried for him as he becomes irrational and closed-off from the group. Bard and the survivors of Lake Town head towards the ruined city of Dale, finding shelter and seeking their share of the gold from Erebor that was promised to them by Thorin. Thranduil (Lee Pace) and his army of elven soldiers arrive at Dale with supplies for the survivors of Lake Town. Thranduil exclaims his intention to attack Erebor if he isn’t given his share of the treasure. Wanting to avoid war, Bard confronts Thorin, pleading with him for his share, but Thorin, refusing to give away his fortune, sends Bard away empty-handed.
We meet back up with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) who is saved from an Orc attack in Dol Guldur by Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). The nine servants of Sauron (who would become ring-wraiths) appear and attempt to kill the two of them, but Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) intervene and they manage to fight them off. Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) takes Galdalf to safety as we witness Galadriel banish The Necromancer/Sauron (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is surrounded by the giant eye of flames that had become so iconic in the films series.
Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) head to Gundabad to investigate the goings on and see that an army of Orcs is preparing to march on Erebor and they set off back in order to warn Thorin and company. Bilbo, having found the Arkenstone that Thorin is so desperately seeking, leaved Erebor for Dale and gives the stone to Thranduil and Bard as a way to avoid war, allowing them to use it as a bargaining tool to get their deserved share. Gandalf is also in Dale and prior to Bilbo arriving, attempts to convince the men and elves of an impending Orc attack that they should focus on, rather than an attack on Erebor. Unconvinced with Gandalf’s warning, they continue with their planned attack on Erebor. Before any battle begins, Thranduil and Bard show Thorin the Arkenstone and explain they will exchange it for their share of treasure and avoid war. Thorin, initially unbelieving that the stone is real, is confronted by Bilbo who admits to taking the stone. Thorin sees this act as betrayal and attempts to attack Bilbo, but he manages to escape. Thorin shouts for war, saying he won’t bargain with the elves and men.
Dain Ironfoot (Billy Connolly), the Lord of the Iron Hills, along with a large army of dwarves, arrive outside Erebor and have a face-off with the elves and men, but before they can attack one another they are surprised by the emergence of Azog’s (Manu Bennett) Orc armies from beneath the hills. This begins the main battle of the movie as Orcs, Elves, Men, Dwarves and Eagles clash for control of Erebor. There are glimpses, as the battle proceeds, of our various characters. Thorin refuses to join the fight, sitting on his throne as he ponders how to hide the gold in a safer place. Dwalin (Graham McTavish) confronts him and tries to reason with Thorin, but is threatened and sent away. Eventually, after realising the heavy burden that the gold has on him and the effects that his sickness is having on his brethren, he, along with the remainder of the company, join the fight.
Thorin, along with Dwalin, Fili (Dean O’Gorman) and Kili (Aidan Turner), leaves the main battle to focus on Azog who is leading the Orc armies, in an attempt to stop them at their root. We witness five major character deaths here, in this lengthy sequence. Fili, investigating a tower, is caught by Azog who, in front of Thorin, stabs him and drops him from the tower, to his death. Kili, fighting alongside Tauriel, who along with Legolas arrived to assist the dwarves, is then killed by Balg as Tauriel helplessly looks on. Balg is then slayed by Legolas in a long fight scene with plenty of “Leggy-moments”. We then go to the battle between Azog and Thorin, a fight that has been brewing since the first film. A great scene shot on a frozen lake, we see Azog fall to Thorins blade, but not before he buries his blade into the King under the Mountain first. Azog dies, and we then have an emotional scene involving Bilbo and Thorin, with Thorin apologizing to Bilbo for putting him in danger, and Bilbo proclaiming it to be an honour. Thorin passes away as Bilbo sobs beside him.
With Thorin, Kili and Fili gone and the battle won, the other dwarves stand outside Erebor and wish Bilbo a fond farewell, tearfully wishing him the best as he welcomes them to his home any time they like. Bilbo and Gandalf return to The Shire and we connect the trilogies as the film comes to an end.
There are obviously hundreds of moments, plot-points and scenes that I haven’t mentioned here. It would take far too long, and I don’t think it’s necessary. It is pretty obvious that some of the major omissions will be tied up in the extended version of the film when it is released, inevitably, next year. Although it doesn’t hinder the story as a whole, it will be nice to see certain scenes that didn’t make the theatrical cut, because they are important in their own ways.
Now, did I enjoy the movie? That’s the question. Well yes, I thought it was incredible. I am pretty good at separating the book and the movie when it comes to adaptations, so any things that were missing, like in the other films, I accepted and moved on, accepting it for what it is, an adaptation, adapted, changed, a view of a story from another person’s perspective. I’m not sure whether I preferred it to the second film, The Desolation of Smaug, time will tell, as will repeated viewings of the extended cut when that is made available, but at this point I can say that I wasn’t disappointed, and I thought it was a fulfilling, exciting and fitting conclusion to the trilogy, while also nicely linking to the film that follows it, 2001’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
The cast did a marvellous job, so good in fact that it is hard to pick out the standouts, because every cast member on the main brigade, throughout this series, has thrown themselves into their roles and given their all to the story. Armitage, as Thorin, was great, showing sides to him that have only been hinted at in the prior instalments. His madness, sickness and paranoia, along with his inner battling of such things, trying to see through the smog that the cursed gold is causing, is an absolutely thrilling thing to watch. His chemistry with his dwarven brothers is impeccable, as with Bilbo, played with subtlety, everyman humour, and a down-to-earth rustic melancholy by Martin Freeman. Bilbo, like Frodo, wants to go home, but understands the importance of what he is a part of, and refuses to do anything but see it out until its end, regardless of what peril may find him. I will also admit to getting a big kick out of seeing the 92 year old Christopher Lee wielding his wizard’s staff and kicking some wraith-arse in one of my favourite scenes. The whole cast deserve a big pat on the back, like the cast in the Lord of the Rings films, for delivering such an unforgettable, enchanting and completely brilliant trio of movies that will remain a major part of fantasy cinema forever, and the world of film in general for that matter.
Away from the story and the cast, there are so many other elements that deserve credit here. Howard Shore’s beautiful score is once more something that has such a strong effect on the film and how it plays out. The music has always worked so well in how the films work, and it is no different here. The way you immediately know where you are on the map of middle earth by the sounds of the score is genius, and really adds something magical to the series, like it did with the Lord of the Rings movies. The set design and costume design from Weta is gorgeous again. The vast landscapes mixing real New Zealand locations, set builds, miniatures and CGI makes for a visually gob-smacking film, something fans will be familiar with from the previous ones. It is as good as ever here. I specifically liked seeing Dale, the crumbling ruined city where the refugees from Lake Town take shelter. It looked like it had seen hardship, and that, beneath the rubble and the dust once existed a vibrant place filled with people, markets and life. I thought the costumes from each army was also excellently done, immediately allowing you to know which army you were looking at from the specific and clever designs.
There are many people who will find it hard to enjoy The Hobbit films, like there were people who couldn’t enjoy the Lord of the Rings films. I find that these people come from a couple of places. Some feel like they don’t want their beloved books to be spoiled and feel like the things that are left out of the films would cause them to dislike them. There are also people who feel like the films are too long and too similar, not offering them the things they seek in movies. While I will gladly accept that everyone is entitled to these opinions, and others, I will say that these films are utterly enjoyable and deserve your attention. If you can look past certain omissions and accept certain inclusions that weren’t part of the literature (Tauriel, for instance), then I think you would, like those of us that love these movies, find something extremely likeable and exciting. This was a brilliantly told trilogy and here, with The Battle of the Five Armies, Peter Jackson has created a great finale to his second trilogy in Middle Earth. When Thorin asks his dwarf cohorts, “will you follow me, one last time?”, I felt like Peter Jackson himself was standing there speaking with him, and I’m glad I did, because I feel, like Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Legolas, Thorin, Gandalf and the rest of those who walked, fought and climbed across Middle Earth over the course of these six films, that I had a great adventure.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is out now in cinemas.