The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies (2014)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 12/17/14
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Lee Pace, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry, Ian Holm

Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" trilogy finally grinds to an end in this overly drawn out spectacle. The film opens right where "The Desolation Of Smaug" (2013) left off, and the death of Smaug is sadly reduced to an anti-climactic pre-credits set piece that really should have been in the previous film. The rest of the film focuses on Thorin's (Richard Armitage) growing madness, as the vast treasure of Erebor twists his mind and makes him turn against his friends and family. News of Smaug's death brings armies of men, elves, dwarves, and orcs to Lonely Mountain to fight for the cursed treasure, and they go to war in a series of epic battle sequences. The orcs have the upper hand, but the tide of battle turns when a fifth army shows up.

Like the previous two films, this one takes numerous liberties with the source material and changes many of the details. The most egregious difference is that the majority of Thorin's company actually survives the battle, which leaves a seriously bad taste. As if that ending weren't bad enough, the epilogue attempts to lead into "The Fellowship Of The Ring" (2001), with Legolas (Orlando Bloom) leaving his kingdom in search of Strider, and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) sinking further under the influence of the Ring Of Power.

Apart from these literary offenses, it's a remarkably polished production and it looks fantastic. Peter Jackson continues to get the best out of his actors and they do a wonderful job. Luke Evans shines as Bard and Martin Freeman continues to impress as the twitchy Bilbo, who manages to find strength and courage in the face of adversity. However, it may be Cate Blanchett who steals the show as Galadriel, when she unleashes a terrifying force against Sauron during her attempt to rescue Gandalf (Ian McKellan) from the powers of darkness. Her delivery is intense and truly frightening. The visual effects are superb, and the massive battle scenes between the various armies are breathtaking. CGI creatures interact seamlessly with the human actors, and the virtual sets are very convincing. The level of photo-realism is actually quite astonishing. It's just unfortunate that this is the weakest of the three Hobbit films, and despite the constant action, the pacing is sluggish and the film tends to drag. Now that Peter Jackson has wrung all that he can out of Tolkien's work, it will be interesting to see what he tackles next.