Last blast in Middle Earth

With The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, filmmaker Peter Jackson completes his second J.R.R. Tolkien big-screen trilogy. For the millions of fans worldwide who embraced Lord of the Rings and now The Hobbit, this is a fitting, sprawling send-off … and it’s something of a relief to at long last be done with things.

Jackson has continually demonstrated his affinity for Tolkien in these films, enough to stretch The Hobbit – which is hardly as expansive as Lord of the Rings – into a three-film arc. He’s even expanded Tolkien’s parameters by creating entirely new characters (Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel) and revisiting previous characters (Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel, Hugo Weaving’s Elrond, Christopher Lee’s Saruman) that might not have appeared in The Hobbit, yet in no way does he besmirch the literary source. The film is faithful to the Tolkien spirit if not the exact letter of the original text.

The Battle of the Armies picks up right where The Desolation of Smaug left off, as the diabolical dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) is vanquished, but not before devastating much of Laketown first. Smaug may be gone, but his insidious legacy lives on within the mind of Thorin Oakenshield (an excellent Richard Armitage), who is so consumed with greed and paranoia that he brings about the epic conflict that gives this installment its title.

The worst-case scenario end result would be the rise of the Kingdom of Angmar and the dawn of the Age of the Orc. What, specifically, would that entail? More to the point, does it really matter?

Once again, eponymous Hobbit hero Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is called upon to save the day, ably abetted and assisted by the wise wizard Gandalf (franchise perennial Sir Ian McKellen).

The second half of the film is essentially consumed with an epic battle royale, filled with bloodshed and beheadings – albeit within the confines of an audiencefriendly PG-13 rating. Even after six films, Jackson’s enthusiasm for the material has not waned. The special effects maintain the dazzling quality of the preceding films, and this is one case where the 3-D effects actually enhance the experience, itself a feat these days.

Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Ryan Gage, Stephen Fry and Aidan Turner are among the holdovers from earlier installments, while Billy Connolly makes his Hobbit bow as the grizzled warrior Dain Ironfoot. Bringing things full circle is the reappearance of Ian Holm as an older Bilbo Baggins.

Indeed, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is something of a valedictory achievement, and undoubtedly a singular one. Peter Jackson has done full justice to J.R.R. Tolkien, reaping awards (and not inconsiderable riches) along the way. This is a last go-’round and a fond farewell, although in the not-so-mythical kingdom of Hollywood, nothing is ever really over so long as it keeps spinning gold. !