Coming after the first six hours of story, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies holds few surprises in terms of story, look, and tone. It sees the resolution of Peter Jackson's expanded adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's novel, so your enjoyment of the previous two installments (An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug) will likely be a strong indicator to how you feel about this conclusion. Battle of the Five Armies picks up where the previous film left off, with the great fire-drake of the north, Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) descending upon Laketown and culminates in the titular confrontation. It also resolves the cliffhanger to Gandalf's (Ian McKellan) investigation of the Necromancer in Dol Guldur. With the dragon out of the picture, the film spends much of its time setting up for the final showdown, with Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his dwarven brethren facing off against Bard (Luke Evans), the Laketown refugees, and Thranduil (Lee Pace) and the wood elves. Greed is the primary motivator for the dwarves, especially as Thorin's desire for the Arkenstone drives him to want to protect the treasure within his ancestral home at all costs. Despite the attempted intervention of Bilbo (Martin Freeman), the bloodless siege of the mountain by the men and elves is only resolved by the arrival of an orc army, discovered by Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly).
Now that we've seen the final chapter of this adaptation, I think it is reasonable to reflect on the project as a whole. In the past, I have been a defender of Jackson's work, and I will continue to do so, but that doesn't mean that The Hobbit films are flawless.
However, I think the imperfections are more interesting than many seem to give Jackson credit for, especially when it comes to the differences in the look between The Hobbit films and The Lord of the Rings. The latter, written later and for a more mature audience, is translated into a gritty fantasy, drawing on historical war epics for inspiration, whereas these films are adapted into a sprawling fairytale, with Jackson pulling from Ray Harryhausen and other monster movies. This gives The Hobbit films a glossier, less "realistic" look, which sadly does not always work to the films' advantage.
The other large flaw is the choice to include material not found in the source material. I don't object to that material itself, but I agree that it distracts from Bilbo's story. Seeing Gandalf, Saruman (Christopher Lee), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) team up to take on the Necromancer is fun for sure, but it really is a footnote in the overall story that Tolkien was telling. Maybe a 'sidequel' or a different film detailing that plotline would have been more appropriate.
Even given these two major flaws, I still greatly enjoy the entire trilogy. While they don't (and shouldn't) carry the weight of The Lord of the Rings, I like that they stand separately. <em>The Battle of the Five Armies</em> shines because it allows the main story to come back to the forefront, creating a rousing crescendo for this trilogy of films.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies opens in Philly area theaters today.