[Screen It]


(2014) (Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage) (PG-13)

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Drama/Action: After a dangerous dragon is defeated, a hobbit and his dwarf allies must contend with their leader going mad in the dragon's lair, all while other forces arrive with the intent of defeating them.
When we last saw the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (MARTIN FREEMAN), he was inside the Lonely Mountain along with a number of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (RICHARD ARMITAGE), battling the fierce dragon, Smaug (voice of BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH), all in hopes of finding the Arkenstone, the key for Thorin to reclaim his rightful kingdom from the beast. Smaug was forced out and is now laying waste to the local village, with Bard the Bowman (LUKE EVANS) finally managing to kill him.

With the village destroyed, Bard leads the survivors -- including the conniving Alfrid (RYAN GAGE) -- toward the Lonely Mountain in hopes of finding a safe harbor, only to learn from Bilbo that Thorin has seemingly come under the spell of dragon sickness, leaving him power mad and increasingly paranoid about others. The wise wizard Gandalf the Grey (IAN McKELLEN) is of no use to them, what with being imprisoned, although he's eventually rescued.

At the same time, the Orc army commanded by Azog (MANU BENNETT) is headed toward the Lonely Mountain, as is the elf army led by Thranduil (LEE PACE). His son, Legolas (ORLANDO BLOOM), still isn't happy that fellow elf Tauriel (EVANGELINE LILLY) is smitten with dwarf Kili (AIDAN TURNER) rather than him. With Thorin's cousin, Dain (BILLY CONNOLLY), also arriving with his army, everything comes to head as a massive battle between the various armies seems inevitable.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
I realize there are plenty of diehard fans of the cinematic sagas revolving around the strife that's occurred in Middle-earth, a.k.a. the land stemming from the fertile mind of one J.R.R. Tolkien. I am not one of them. To be accurate and fair, I haven't hated any of the films in the "Lord of the Rings" or "Hobbit" series, but I've found all of them long and often laborious to sit through.

That's especially true now that we're into our sixth installment and a total of 1,032 cumulative minutes featuring lots and lots and lots (did I mention it's been a lot?) of walking interspersed with occasional bouts of full-screen battles featuring a myriad of fantastical heroes, villains and other beings, followed by sweeping, vista-filled overhead shots of yet more walking.

That particular combination trend continues in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," the follow-up and last edition of the "Hobbit" trilogy, but at least this time around the walking has been pared down quite a bit. Perhaps it's a blister issue. Whatever the case, the cutting down of said walking has resulted in the shortest installment of these three most recent films (although it still clocks in at 144-some minutes), and a better offering than installment number two that reeked of middle child meets cliffhanger trappings.

This one takes up where part deux left off, and actually delivers the best sequence in the film right away. And that's due to it featuring Smaug the dragon (once again voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) laying waste to a village, all while Bard the Bowman (a returning Luke Evans) manages to free himself from imprisonment, get into position, and take on the angry, fire-breathing reptile head-on.

It's sort of too bad that's Smaug's swan song (cue the rim shot) as he was the most intriguing and fun character to behold last time around (taking over where Andy Serkis' Gollum left off from the first flick), and that holds true for this installment as well. Following that, the film goes into wrap-up mode to tie up all of the various loose ends, all while also sort of going the "Heart of Darkness" route as Thorin (Richard Armitage) starts to behave a bit like Colonel Kurtz (but without all of the fun Brando melodrama) while being affected by "dragon sickness" in the dragon's old lair.

That's much to the concern of our title character (Martin Freeman) who once again is tragically underused as compared to his on-screen collaborators, while Ian McKellen also gets shortchanged (which is similarly too bad) reprising his role as Gandalf. Instead, we get more of elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) longing for dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner), all while Legolas (Orlando Bloom) continues to look on through his jealousy. The whole bit with the attacking Orcs is as frenetic yet as boring as last time around, while Ryan Gage is present as the comic relief playing a conniving, lily-livered sort who apparently has taken his inspiration from Russell Brand.

As to be expected since this entire Middle Earth cinema experience has been his baby, Peter Jackson returns in the director's chair and works from a script he co-wrote with Fran Walsh & Phillipa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro. Having never read Tolkien's literary tale, I can't say if it's faithful to the source material or not, but what's present works decently enough for wrapping things up.

Even so, the battle scenes are just more of the same old, same old mass action sequences that don't engage the senses beyond a slight tingling of visual overwhelm. While watching them, I couldn't help but compare them to the likes of what Spielberg accomplished in "Saving Private Ryan" (I know, vastly disparate genres) where the action was intense, gripping and surprisingly intimate with the characters we cared about. That's compared to here where I couldn't care less about what happened to anyone, as long as none of it set anyone off on yet another bit of walking.

And it's too bad the film's best bit comes right at the onset, delivering the best money shots, as they say, long before the closing credits hopefully put an end to these repetitive journeys to Middle Earth. I realize lots of people love them and I'm happy they (and maybe you, dear reader) find them entertaining. I'm just glad this final installment arrived with the shortest running time and the tightest storytelling. Okay, but nothing great, "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed December 2, 2014 / Posted December 17, 2014

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