The Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armies

In cinemas now! Starring Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Luke Evans, Evangaline Lilly, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Malcolm the Moose. Adapted liberally from the book by JRRRR Tolkien by Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guilllermo del Toro. Directed by Peter Jackson
Considering its position at the conclusion of Peter Jackson’s second epic trilogy, this proves to be a surprisingly nimble movie. While delivering on the epic action front (just check the title) it is also rich in smaller character moments paying off several plot lines from the first two films with aplomb. At a comparatively modest two and a quarter hour running time it is so focussed that it may just be the best of all the six films. 
A man on a moose strays into the battle and finds it difficult to hide

From the start it is clear that Peter Jackson is in a hurry. With a simple story to tell- essentially the lead up to and subsequent one battle - he is able to draw on the range of characters we know well from the previous two films. Thus with a minimum of introduction we’re right into Smaug’s devastating attack on Laketown. Though the enormity of the IMAX screen does occasionally betray the computer generated nature of what we’re watching it’s a powerful sequence laden with both heroic and cowardly deeds.  Bard’s tense confrontation with Smaug is the highlight but the peril is palpable and there’s time for a less dignified demies for the town’s unscrupulous Master. The whole sequence would make a fabulous climax to many a film but is merely the starter here.
The loss of their home means the Laketown people come seeking shelter in the Lonely Mountain but Thorin’s having none of it. Increasingly under the spell of dragon gold induded madness, the dwarf king inhabits a world of his own, distrusting his comrades except for Bilbo who of course has the very stone he is looking for. Richard Armitage is terrific throughout the film especially as his character descends into madness wandering about wearing his crown and imagining he is a mighty king. While the battle rages outside, a different conflict simmers in his head and it gives the narrative a strong sense of purpose. If some of Thorin’s dialogue is of the franchise’s favoured proclamation kind, Armitage can make it seem far more profound and by the time he is seeing visions he is magnetic. Thorn’s determination is the fulcrum around which the armies gather once word of Smaug’s demise has spread.
Despite all the declaiming and aggression it is Martin Freeman’s Bilbo who humanises the film. He is one of those actors who doesn’t always have to speak for you to know what his character is thinking and he handles this film especially well as Bilbo provides a counterpoint to Thorin’s growing madness and Gandalf’s mystical predictions.  Luke Evans has far less to do than last time but makes an impression with his earthy heroics while Ryan Gage is stand out as the selfish, cowardly Albert. 
"Battle, Five Armies though I can only see four. Fancy it?" "Nah it's Quiz Night at the Slapped Haddock ain't it?"
The climax of the battle leads to several superb set pieces across a variety of locations but the key clashes happen hundreds of feet up on ice covered walkways and steep mountain tops.  There’s a breathtaking attempt to slay the Orc leader that ends tragically and a riveting confrontation on thin ice as Thorin finally lives up to his legend. Occasionally the action of individuals can seem a little incredulous- Legolas’ various escapades in particular sometimes cross the line to the point where they draw attention to the effects rather than incorporate them. Yet when we see the strain and struggle, the desperation and determination, some deaths and some miraculous escapes, it provides an unexpectedly powerful and emotional last half hour.
Unlike the third LOTR film there are no multiple endings; indeed the conclusion is so clean cut and quiet that it takes you by surprise but it fits a movie that in all areas shows rigorous focus to produce one of the best films of the year.

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