Whilst it's not exactly the highest of notes to end on, if you're willing to put up with its irritating excess, then there's still some fun to be had here.
It’s hard to review The Battle of the Five Armies without essentially reviewing the Hobbit as a whole instead, but that seems somewhat fitting seeing as it isn’t really a complete film in itself anyway. Starting halfway through the confrontation that was left hanging at the end of the last instalment, The Battle of the Five Armies gets off to an exciting but jarring start, as it struggles to get past the innately awkward problem of opening a film with such a climactic event. These structural problems only become more pronounced as the narrative forces itself along, dragging out minor subplots for a seeming eternity.
So what’s left to cover in the 20 or so pages of the book still to be adapted? Well, not much. After Smaug is defeated (which is the type of event that would constitute a spoiler in a film that didn’t kill off the main antagonist in the first 10 minutes), the question is raised as to what to do with the copious amounts of gold which he left behind. Being the ones who initiated the whole debacle, the dwarves take it upon themselves to inherent all of this wealth and begin channeling Scrooge McDuck, lying around upon literal mountains of treasure. However the various other communities of Middle Earth don’t quite see things their way. Before you even have time to say “Seriously? This is going to last 3 hours?” there’s a mass of angry people waiting at the doorstep ready to take the treasure by force. There’s also reputedly a hobbit named Bilbo involved somewhere but you’ll be hard-pressed to notice.
Suffice it to say the film struggles to make 150 minutes of story out of so little, but boy does it try. Complete with all the padding that you’ve come to love from The Hobbit films (video-game fight scenes, anonymous dwarves, that weird Alfrid guy) the film once again neglects to make time for its namesake. Which is a shame, given that Freeman has such an easy charm and likability to him. Instead it’s more of the same, with character’s that have no business even being in The Hobbit competing with bland nobodies for the spotlight. Oddly enough, despite the bloated run-time, we’ve come to know literally nothing about half of the cast, so much so that when they start getting axed off you’ll find yourself lamenting; “Oh no! Not dwarf no.9! He was my 12th favorite! Right after the one who is fat and nothing else!”.
By the time the titular battle is underway, we’ve dealt with one character’s descent into madness, the internal politics of Laketown and everything to do with the Necromancer. Take a huge pair of scissors to all of that (with extreme prejudice, that is) and we could have had a very entertaining adventure romp. The war is suitably epic and certainly gives you plenty of pay-off and it’s hard to deny that we all wanted one last trip to Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Middle-Earth. It’s just a shame that it has so spectacularly outstayed it’s welcome. It’s worth reiterating that there is a better film in there somewhere, just like there’s a better trilogy (or more likely two films) to be made from the whole series. Still, by the time the eagles arrive and the credits begin to roll, even the most hardcore Tolkien fans will likely take a huge sigh of relief.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014), directed by Peter Jackson, is distributed on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK by Warner Bros, Certificate 12.