One for the Fans

And so, every last drop has been wrung from Tolkienalia. We arrive here at the end of the "Hobbit" trilogy more than a decade after director Peter Jackson began to redefine the possibilities of movie franchises with "Lord of the Rings," and we're kind of worn out by the ride. Along the way, there have probably been eight or 10 great hours of filmmaking; the trouble is there's more than 17 hours of movie between Jackson's six Middle Earth movies. Rather than ending with a crescendo, the J.R.R. Tolkien films have just kind of ended.

About that crescendo: The title, "The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies," promises quite a bit of action and the film more or less delivers. But as with all action movies, the fights have to propel the story or the characters into something greater or out of something dire to make them worth sitting through. That's really what, if anything, was going to kneecap this second trilogy all along. There just aren't enough pages in Tolkien's book to go the distance of three epic-sized films.

The second "Hobbit" film, "The Desolation of Smaug," was the tightest and best Peter Jackson thing since the first half of "The Two Towers," and a fine recovery from the tepid, fumbly "Unexpected Journey." It was not unreasonable to leave the bridge film in the trilogy wanting more, however, the capstone doesn't exactly fill the order.

Rather than an epic conclusion punctuated by a brawl for it all, "Five Armies" is some massive fights with some endgame mechanics shoehorned in. Jackson has also leveraged additional Tolkien writings to help flesh out some of the characters, which is probably a good move, but if this project had remained two mammoth movies as originally intended, the material in "Five Armies" probably would have been better off.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) has gone from outsider to a respected member of the inner circle within the company of dwarves. Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) has forced the evil dragon Smaug out of Lonely Mountain, and now sits with vast amounts of stolen gold. As it always does in the movies, the acquisition of such immense wealth leads Thorin into a state of goldlust, driving a wedge in some of his alliances.

Soon enough Lonely Mountain ain't so lonely no more: Elves, the citizens of Lake Town, rival dwarves and those unreasonable orcs all converge there. Some are looking for recompense, others revenge. In the middle of all of it, of course, are Bilbo and Gandalf (Ian McKellen). The second trilogy does a very credible job establishing the friendship between these two, which of course is a launching pad for the "Lord of the Rings" films. It's interesting that the best thing to come from three gargantuan movies like these is the smallest gesture contained within them, but that appears to be the case.

The action is ... what it was in the first and second movies. After all, minus some additional footage here and there, both Peter Jackson trilogies were each enormous single-serve productions split into parts. He still deserves a lot of credit for juggling all of that—more than he'll get at this stage—but it's impossible to chart any progression from a technical standpoint. If you liked what you saw earlier, especially in "Desolation of the Smaug," you'll be fine.

However, there comes a point, unless you're just a hardcore devotee, when exhaustion sets in. It's been a long journey through Middle Earth. "The Battle of the Five Armies," while a nice complement to the film that came before it, doesn't exactly distinguish itself or the trilogy overall. It's one for the fans; good thing there's a lot of 'em.

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