The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, directed by Peter Jackson, is the conclusion of the second trilogy of films based off of the classic Tolkien novels. The movie stars Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Andy Serkis, Lee Pace, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Billy Connolly, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Smaug the fire breathing dragon (Cumberbatch) has risen from his slumber thanks to the meddling of Frodo the Hobbit (Freeman) and his dwarf companions led by Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage) who is looking to reclaim his kingdom under the mountain. This is but the beginning of the final chapter in a story that will see men, dwarfs, elves, orcs, goblins, and many other beings and creatures going to war for the right to claim the Lonely Mountain for their own along with the unimaginable wealth being kept inside. Thorin himself has begun to fall prey to the enchantments of gold, jewels, and every other form of precious metal one could dig up out of the ground that has all been tainted by 60 years of Smaug's evil presence. While tensions build and forces gather under the shadow of the mountain, Gandalf the Grey (McKellen) is dealing with some evil doers himself as the Necromancer, Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett), and the Witch King of Angmar have trapped the wizard in the shadows of their dark and terrible fortress. It seems that the courage and resiliency of a certain halfling must once again look to win the day as everything else has pretty much crapped a fruit salad all over Middle Earth.
Visually, this movie is an absolutely amazing achievement. CGI has now reached near a limitless ability to put on the screen whatever the imagination can dream up. Even with the impeccable clarity of the High Frame Rate (HFR) presentation, the movie looked breathtakingly cinematic and just added to the epic scale of the story being told. Sure, there were a few moments where a marching army of elves or a cascading pile of gold looked a little too much like a video game cut scene, but overall, the look and feel of the movie was absolutely top notch. I was also very impressed with how Mr. Jackson and company chose to not go so far over the top that things just got silly. Every bit of action, with a few exceptions, fit the narrative very well and stayed within the realm of what you would think could be achievable in Tolkien's fantasy world.
There are a lot of people out there who have a problem with how many things were added into the Hobbit story for the sake of extending it out to three movies as well as creating narrative threads that helped to bond the two Tolkien trilogies together. For my part, I really had no problem with any of it. I will always love the books for what they are and for the amazing stories that Mr. Tolkien created during his time and I am now also a big fan of the cinematic version of the story that Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens have created and brought to life. I believe the Hobbit movies, as they are, do a better job of pairing up with and laying the groundwork for what we see in The Lord of the Rings. Of course purists will completely disagree with me and, while I totally understand, I'm not sure if I would have wanted a straight translation of the Hobbit story over what we end up getting with the trilogy.
That being said, I honestly could have done without so much Legolas (Bloom) in the movie as well as the love story between Tauriel (Lilly) and the dwarf Kili (Aiden Turner) as both just seemed too forced and awkward. I don't really feel we gained much by seeing Legolas as a major player in this story and would have preferred his character to remain more of a mysterious figure going in to The Fellowship of the Ring although I'm sure it was hard not to get him in there as he is such a popular character so...whatever. As far as Tauriel and Kili falling in love, this wedged in plot line is so unfortunately wrong that it ruins how awesome the elf warrior is at kicking ass during the battle scenes. The awkwardness gets taken to even higher levels when we are reminded of how Legolas is also in love with Tauriel yet has to deal with getting friend zoned by the woman he has had feelings for centuries (elves live a long, long time) because she meets and somehow falls for another guy she barely interacted with for more than a few minutes in the previous movie. Oh well, I guess both of these wedged in plot devices will ultimately help sell tickets even if they bring down the story more than they add to it.
As was the case with each of the previous Hobbit movies, Martin Freeman is absolutely brilliant as the one and only Bilbo Baggins and absolutely owns every single frame of film he inhabits. Freeman can convey so much emotion with a single facial expression and is so entertaining in everything he does, I find it impossible to believe anyone else could have ever played this role...except for Ian Holm who, of course, does also play Bilbo in the movies. outside of Freeman's standout performance, you pretty much get what you would expect out of everyone else in the cast. Ian McKellen has such a firm grasp on who Gandalf is, you pretty much expect him to do his thing just as much as you expect Orlando Bloom to be on the other end of that spectrum. There were a few characters that were a bit over the top for my liking with a prime example being Ryan Gage's turn as Alfrid who goes from unlikable evil doer to horribly painful comic relief, none of which works in any way...at all.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a very fitting end to the Hobbit trilogy and is also a worthy segue into The Lord of the Rings. There are so many jaw dropping moments that are clearly meant to get fans hooting and hollering (wait until you see what Galadriel does) and the movie is filled with some really impressive action sequences that just demand multiple viewings. While I wouldn't put this, or any of the Hobbit movies, on the same level of epic awesomeness as the Rings trilogy, they do a great job of taking us all back to the cinematic version of Middle Earth that Peter Jackson and company have so lovingly created for us.
Should you see it...
...in IMAX. Only if you are near a true and legitimate IMAX theater. Don't settle for the fake stuff you will find in chain theaters. CLICK HERE to learn more.
...in 3D. I would have to say yes as Peter Jackson goes to great lengths to assure technical quality including the use of 3D cameras while filming rather than going to the post conversion route. A movie of this size and scale only benefits from the added feature.
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