Directed by Peter Jackson.
2014. Rated PG-13, 144 minutes.
After wrapping up the events of the first two "Hobbit" movies in spectacularly anti-climactic fashion, the plot of this third film is set in motion. Thorin (Armitage), leader of the Dwarves, has barricaded himself and a small faction of his men inside the Lonely Mountain, along with Bilbo Baggins (Freeman). As you might recall from those earlier films, the place is filled with gold and other precious gems. Not surprisingly, just about every other group of people on Middle Earth, sans the Hobbits, wants to get into that mountain for one reason or another. They all converge on it, hence the title.
Of the three installments of The Hobbit, this is the least concerned with plot. About half the movie is troops getting into position while the other half is actual fighting. As empty as that sounds, the approach works wonders for a franchise that burdened itself with stretching a short novel into an eight-plus hour trilogy. Where the other films, particularly the endless first, filled time with lengthy scenes of needless and.or confusing exposition, this one keeps things fairly simple and moves the plot forward with contentious negotiations and some sort of action. This gives the movie an immediate sense of urgency lacking in its predecessors. They meander along for much of their near-three hour runtimes. The Battle of the Five Armies races through it like a fire engine toward a three-alarm blaze. It appears self-contained enough to watch without the prior installments because the events of The Desolation of Smaug are wrapped up before the opening credits.
One of the drawbacks to operating at such a breakneck speed is that dialogue is reduced to being merely perfunctory. It's all militaristic jargon or Tolkien-ish melancholy. Without having read the book, I can't say how much is Tolkien and how much isn't. Either way, it all comes off rather wooden. Luckily, there are some capable performers who can elevate it to the level of bearable and uphold the tradition of strong performances in the Middle Earth movies. As usual, my favorite is the sparsely used Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey. While others make the dialogue bearable, he makes it downright eloquent.
Like the rest of the Middle Earth films, The Battle of the Five Armies really hangs its hat on its visuals. I've come across lots of complaints about this trilogy's heavy reliance on cgi as opposed to The Lord of the Rings movies. I understand that complaint, and prefer a mix between cgi and practical myself, but find the cgi here to be exceptional in most instances. One of the problems many productions run into is that their creations often have a glossy sheen to them, reminiscent of plastic. I don't recall seeing that anywhere. Every creature appeared perfectly It drags for long stretches because its ambitions far outreaches its source material. The Battle of the Five Armies is where the franchise catches up to itself. It's the most fun of the the three films, even if it is deeply flawed. The story doesn't so much unfold as it is succinctly presented to us and its conclusion relentlessly marched toward. Like the last of the Lord of the Rings movies, The Return of the King, this one goes on too far beyond its logical conclusion. The last ten or so minutes serve as an unneeded tie-in to the first of the Rings movies, The Fellowship of the Ring. Not so grand finales aside, The Battle of the Five Armies is a fun, but not great, last trip to Middle Earth.