ByMichael Smyth, writer at
Michael Smyth

"Aw, come on," Billy Connolly's dwarf exclaims when Earth-Eaters, giant worm-like creatures with fanged teeth, burst from the ground and move menacingly towards his army. Having already been introduced to giant bats, War Beasts (monsters that would make Cave Trolls feel insecure in the showers), grizzly bears, battle goats, and Connolly's war-mongering, head-butting dwarf leader, credibility, even in the Tolkien universe, was already on shaky ground.
But despite a ropey opening Peter Jackson eventually rallies the troops for an action-laden finale of the most narratively cohesive (and shortest) instalment of the Hobbit series.Taking up moments from The Desolation of Smaug, the dragon proceeds to lay waste to Late-town before Luke Evans punctures its heart with a steel arrow. With Smaug dead and his treasure unguarded, armies of angry Orcs, miffed Elves, and mercenary goblins descend on Erebore where Thorin (Armitage), driven mad with greed, leads his band of dwarves in search for the Arkenstone, which Bilbo (Freeman) has secretly hidden in his pocket.
The Hobbit series hasn't been brilliant. The tendency to pad, to put time into the unworkable romance between Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aidan Turner), the penchant to flit between minor characters who have little narrative impact (Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee and Hugo Weaving turn up in cameos here), and the lack of a consistent antagonist would have been forgivable if there was a bona fide hero in the mould of Aragorn. Freeman's Bilbo has been merely a bystander, and Armitage's would-be dwarf king lacking depth to carry an eight hours plus franchise.
While Bilbo is still just an observer again there's a lot more going on with Thorin this time out; filling out the flawed hero role ... Five Armies is most definitely his story and the film is stronger for it. That and the propensity for engaging action. Taking up most of the second half of the film, Jackson, knowing that another CGI epic battle outside castle walls would look samey, prefers to keep it one-on-one, heightening our involvement in the process; Legolas enjoys a running scrap with a rather determined orc and Thorin's ice river showdown Azog the Defiler has surprises.
It never comes close to emulating the magic and wonder of the first trilogy but Battle of the Five Armies is far more engaging that its two predecessors.


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