(NEW YORK) -- The title kind of says it all: this is a movie about a battle, there are five armies involved, and it’s all pretty darn spectacular. Director Peter Jackson has crafted an epic ending to his Hobbit trilogy worth all the gold in Erebor, and then some. It may not be Oscar-worthy in terms of complexity, but it’s the best popcorn flick in theaters since Guardians of the Galaxy.
The film begins where last year’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug left off: the dragon Smaug has left his jeweled lair and descended on Lake Town, burning with murderous rage. We’re immediately thrown into the action -- there’s no “previously, on The Hobbit” to set things up -- so if you’re like me and you tend to forget what happened on the Homeland episode you just watched a week ago, you’ll need to read a little reminder of last year’s Hobbit film before you get to the theater.
Before long we’re back on the Misty Mountain, with everyone from dwarves to elves to orcs plotting a path to the vast riches there previously guarded by Smaug. Allegiances are tested, tempers flare, and armies are preparing for war. In all the bluster, though, Jackson and the writers find plenty of time for comedy and heart. Because while all of this stuff is serious, come on, we’re still in fantasy land.
I have to say I was a little apprehensive going into this film, because there’s nothing that bores me more than huge battle scenes. Too often it’s just a mess of fast camera cuts that are too close-up for audiences to be able to tell what’s happening, or someone miraculously defeats 12 attackers while barely getting scratched; it’s usually just a confusing jumbled mess we must endure, rather than enjoy. But this is where the skill of Peter Jackson as a director truly shines, because he doesn’t get bogged down in spectacle over story. The second half of the movie isn’t just an hour of armies battling to the bloody death: it’s a supremely intricate, choreographed dance of chaos that manages to dazzle with special effects while deepening the development of the characters. Is there too much focus on the fighting? Perhaps. But it never feels boring or repetitive.
And thankfully, Jackson never forgets that the name of the franchise is The Hobbit, not The Elf or The Dwarf King. In a movie that’s mostly about an epic battle, there are far sexier warriors to focus on than Bilbo Baggins, and the film does, from time to time. But it always comes back to our star, played by Martin Freeman, the emotional heart of the story.
Sure, the movie devolves here and there into movie battle clichés: legions of orcs are killed by glancing blows while our heroes take serious punishment and fight on, no problem. And there are those scenes where someone impossibly fights more people than should be possible and comes out a winner. But these brief transgressions are forgivable in the face of all that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies gets right.
True fans of the franchise will want to see the film on the big screen, in 3D. In the hands of many directors, the format is often just a gimmick that boosts ticket prices, but here it helps render these beautifully-constructed sets into fully realized worlds. And I swear at one point, I actually jumped when something, perhaps an arrow, appeared to fly out of the screen and past my head. But it’s not just the 3D: all of the special effects here are top notch.
In the end, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies will leave fans with a huge smile on their faces, and even skeptics should be impressed by the visuals and directing. Sure, it may not be much more than a Hollywood blockbuster when it comes to plot and complexity, but more movies should be this fun.
Four out of five stars.
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