And so all things must pass. After 13 years and a whopping 17 hours 12 minutes (and that’s not even including the extended versions), we reach the culmination of affairs. Fires aplenty, rabid battles and even some clunky love; the narrative hits an apocalyptic end. As the marketing hashtag points out #onelasttime. Is it worth the ride?
Shorter than any other instalment in the batch of films, a bracing vigour greets the opening salvo. No fear of protracted exposition here. The audience is thrown straight from the ending in The Desolation of Smaug and into the hell that hath no fury like Smaug’s fiery scorn. This dragon is loose and his ire is Lake-town’s besiegement.
Meanwhile, we join the troupe of Dwarves and our recalcitrant, reluctant hero, Bilbo, standing perched on the outer reaches of the Lonely Mountain, witnessing from a picturesque viewpoint the devastation occurring over yonder.
Thorin lies in wait to reclaim his homeland and the mantle of King Under the Mountain, but whilst his passion is palpable, his ignorance of his worsening state is oblivious to him. He is not mentally prepared for the onset of dragon-sickness. This Dwarf will change and how will they all cope? Whilst crisis follows crisis on a micro level, Elf, Dwarf and Man must unite to tackle a putrid evil on a far broader, macro plane.
Fast-paced and overflowing with a sense of traction, the trademark Jacksonian panorama does justice to Tolkien’s quixotic trundle through the capacious environs of Middle Earth.
Most importantly, and the crux of this review, is who would have quite imagined that the final instalment would feel like a treatise on the modern international political picture? There is a thin, ne overt, allegorical reach in this outing that hollers and honks with a thought-provoking grandeur. Shot four years ago, surely Jackson didn’t expect this film to ring with quite such pertinence come release date? Save for pestilence, most issues are more or less covered.
It provides a sad indictment as to the sorry state of the world as it stands that the geopolitics of Middle Earth encompass a source of our greatest follies; the ignorance of negotiation, the displaced in need of aid, the role of allies, the blood of the battlefield and the clash of the arcane and the sophisticated, where different ideologues muck it out for supremacy. This is a world where motive is interchangeable with our own, where greed for materialistic spoils confronts a Zionistic sense of entitlement to occupancy.
As a consequence of these echoes with the current climate, there is a heft here that benefits and enriches all aspects of The Battle of the Five Armies in spite of the more clunky facets of the screenplay. For example, the love triangle played out between Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), Kili (Aidan Turner) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is excruciating and incongruous despite the best attempts from the cast.
The performances are steady to a fault. They are so fully formed by this point – particularly that of Thorin (Richard Armitage), Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) and Bilbo (Martin Freeman), that you can already envisage pastiche following quickly (as it has in Gandalf’s case in the intervening years since the original trilogy). Their work, and that of the whole cast, is complete. There is the growth in the wiles of Bilbo. No longer naïve, he is now a step ahead of the others; a hobbit with an edge.
If one were inclined, you could slate Jackson’s work with ease. His films can be pulled apart because of their sheer excess. They put themselves on the dartboard for the naysayers. He sings to the choir though and whilst this might not be a faultless performance, he hasn’t let his congregation down either. A firm conclusion to a set of films that can now be called an imperfect, yet strong, trilogy.