Hobbit: The Battle Of The 5 Armies
Somewhat to surprise, this final (we assume) chapter of the 6 film, 254 hour epic is better than its 2 Hobbity predecessors, though you could justifiably argue that it couldn't be worse. This has been achieved by the simple expedient of making it as much like the LOTR films as possible. Though it's still not as good.
The film takes up exactly where the previous one ended; a wise move since we're into the action straight away. Smaug is en route to destroy Laketown. He is one very miffed dragon, with revenge on his mind, and fire in his belly. Only one man can save the town and it certainly isn't Stephen Fry who's making for the nearest exit by boat, laden with booty. Bard the archer (Luke Evans) is the hero of the hour, and does the necessary (I don't think that's a plot spoiler is it?).
However, this is just the prologue. Because the dwarves now take advantage of Smaug's demise to wall themselves up in the mountain, and defy anyone who thinks they have a claim on Smaug's treasure – and there are a lot of them about. Soon we have the remnants of the Laketown people reinforced by an army of elves, all threatening to huff and to puff and blow the mountain down, while Thorin (Richard Armitage), driven to paranoid greed by all that gold, throws defiance back at them. Only Bilbo (Martin Freeman), clear-thinking and normal as ever, thinks that it may be a bad idea to go to war over bits of shiny metal, especially when there's enough to go round.
Meanwhile (there are a lot of meanwhiles in this film), Gandalf is locked up in a cage dangling from a cliff, and has to be rescued by Galadriel, Saruman and Elrond (refugees from the LOTR movies). And Legolas (another fish out of water) is refusing to toe Thranduil's party line, and sticking up for Tauriel who's improbably in love with Kili (or Fili) the dwarf.
Entering stage left are a large number of Orcs who are out to mash any creature into the ground that isn't an Orc. Entering stage right is an army of dwarves led by Billy Connolly on a pig. The stage is set for a very big battle (of Five Armies as the title helpfully explains). And this is where my main disappointment arises. Although the battle is initially on a large scale, it soon gives way to a number of single combats, or at least one hero killing lots of bad orcs, until they come up against an especially big one. And – perhaps inevitably – so much of it looks and feels like CGI that it's hard to have much in the way of emotional investment. The era of the computer game movie is alive and well.
Characters die (boo hoo), but we lose any sense of the big struggle between the mighty forces of good and evil. And even the arrival of the eagles (such a big thing in the book) is more of a footnote that barely seems to concern us. There's a lot to admire, and this is definitely a step (back) in the right direction – including an ending that brings us right back to where we started in the first LOTR film 15 years ago – but I think Tolkien fatigue has set in, and we should all go and have a nice lie down, and hope that no one has their beady eye on The Silmarillion.