When we last saw our beloved Bilbo (Martin Freeman) he was in quite a pickle. This pickle being that he, along with his thirteen dwarf companions, had awakened a vicious dragon, Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), who is now on his way to set fire to, well, everybody he can find. While that was a promising build-up for this movie, it's not the plot at hand. Instead, this final film revolves around what happens after the teased destruction. A giant battle, that is. A battle for the Misty Mountain and all the gold that lies inside of it. A battle that literally takes up the entire film's runtime. A battle that's freaking awesome.
The Middle-Earth franchise is, without a doubt, the greatest fantasy series of all time. It's almost like my second home in a lot of ways. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has been a part of my life for many many years and they're three of my favourite movies of all time. While The Hobbit films aren't quite on the same level, they're not any less amazing. I actually find this series to be rather brilliant, which is an unpopular opinion. The first film, although short on action, remains one of the best films of 2012, plus the sequel, The Desolation of Smaug, is even better. I was naturally excited to see The Battle of the Five Armies, even if it was a feature length adaptation of a couple of chapters. I've been on board with Peter Jackson's vision of this trilogy ever since it was announced. I've given every Middle Earth film a rather lenient five star rating (although not at all lenient when it comes to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, just The Hobbit). That's why I'm surprised to say that The Battle of the Five Armies was not everything I wanted it to be, although that's not me saying I didn't like the film. I did. Oh, just read on.
This film is all about the battle. It's the battle to end all battles, so to speak, even if there's technically many battles still to come in Lord of the Rings, but let's not confuse ourselves with the whole prequel sequel stuff. This film is essentially one overstretched, if not rather epic fight. It's a war, and a war that was never once not entertaining, even if it does contain many physics defying leaps from Legolas and an unintentionally hilarious troll whose job is simply to head-butt a wall, knock it down and pass out.
While this battle is still not up to standards with the ones from Lord of the Rings, that doesn't make the spectacle any less incredible. It's not just a battle, it's an experience. It's the defying moment in The Hobbit trilogy and it certainly makes a mark. Full of decapitations and creative murders, the prolonged sequence is constantly providing new thrills, turns and shocks. If you've read the book, like I have, then you're just as unaware of what's to come as the rest of us. While the battle in the book only takes up a few chapters, the battle is essentially all this film is, meaning Jackson had all the creative freedom that he wanted to. And he bloody gets it.
After the rather lacklustre score we got in The Desolation of Smaug, Howard Shore is back on track, providing us with a score so visceral and powerful that it puts all previous Hobbit scores to shame. As a matter of fact, the score used in The Battle of the Five Armies is one of my favourite scores of the year. It's just so effective at every moment its played, especially during both the battle sequence and the moments, like the few towards the end, where the film plays with our emotions in a surprisingly sappy, but effective, way.
And like the previous Hobbit movies, it's the song played during the credits that's the real standout. With the first film we had The Song of the Lonely Mountain, which was good, even with that cheesy title. The second film brought us I See Fire, which was also an absolutely brilliant song, if not better than the first. With The Battle of the Five Armies we have the most tearjerking song ever heard in Middle Earth. The Last Goodbye just may slot in as my favourite original song of 2014. While effective in the credits, it's when I started playing it over and over today that it really hit home. It's a song full of emotion and sadness, but at the same time rejoice and glee.
The Battle of the Five Armies is an epic movie, but a flawed one too, the biggest letdown being the opening ten minutes (AKA the pre-title sequence). This is when we get our first, and only, moment with the dreaded Smaug. The cliffhanger at the end of Desolation gives me goosebumps every time I see it, yet seeing Smaug do what he set out to do is anything but pleasing. It's a dull and out of place ten minutes that felt like it wasn't meant to be a part of this film. As good an ending as Desolation was, it would have improved both that and this one to just whip the scene on there.
But on top of Smaug being out of place, Bilbo is apparently out of place as well. He doesn't make a single meaningful input during this entire film, and when he does, it hardly even dents the overall plot. He tries to do things, but he's sidelined until the journey home, which was, to be honest, a surprisingly emotional moment for me. Not because of any one thing in particular, but because it's when the realisation came that there would be no more Middle Earth films to watch.
This film's final flaw, and arguably the biggest one, is all the sub-plots that are completely ignored or forgotten about. There's a plot set up at the end of Desolation that saw Legolas chasing after an orc, yet it's dropped and not even referenced in this film. There's the plot of the Arkenstone that's used prominently for the first act, only to be dropped soon after. And then there's a bunch of characters introduced and forgotten about soon after, the most note worthy one being Billy Connolly's character.
Flaws and all, The Hobbit trilogy has been quite an experience. It's been a lengthy one, and perhaps it should have stayed as the original two films instead of three, but it's been fun. It didn't end on as big a bang as Jackson hoped, but it didn't end on a low note either. I'm positive that I'll still pick up both the theatrical and extended cuts on blu-ray as I suck at not doing things like that, but also because the journey is over. It'd be a fun experience to see if my opinion on this remains after watching all three back to back. We'll have to see, but for now, I leave you with my only non-5 star rating. Sorry.
To sum up, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies may not end on the highest of notes, especially with several plot-lines being dropped and a rather underwhelming Smaug sequence, but it's still quite a journey, full of action and unexpected thrills. It's no Lord of the Rings, but it was never going to be, and for that, I'm happy we got an experience as good as this.