"Visually it all looks stunning but, at this point, audiences wouldn't accept anything less from this franchise"
After 13 years, 6 films and a theatrical running time of over 17 hours, director Peter Jackson's epic foray into Middle-Earth has finally come to an end, barring any attempts to stretch Tolkien's book The Silmarillion into a five-part saga. And what do we have to show for it? Jackson's second Middle-Earth trilogy has been surrounded by endless discussions of frame rates, pacing and whether it really needed to be split into three parts (it didn't), and despite being well received, has failed to truly capture the public's attention in the way the Lord of the Rings trilogy did. With The Battle of the Five Armies, audiences looking for something new and exciting will be disappointed while most may be content with returning to Middle-Earth one last time.
Previous instalment, The Desolation of Smaug, abruptly ended a year ago with Benedict Cumberbatch's dragon about to lay waste to the floating community of Laketown. Viewers with hazy memories aren't given much breathing room as the film opens without a prologue, thrusting you right into the action. As it happens, the dragon becomes a prelude of sorts and is swiftly swept aside to make way for the titular Battle of the Five Armies, which becomes the film's main focus.
At this point in the Middle-Earth movie timeline it feels like anything goes, Jackson and his team have already helmed five ultra-successful movies and so any budgetary or artistic worries are out the window. The director has an air of a child with far too many toys, quickly growing bored with all the various plot strands (the last film's much-hyped dragon for example), pushing the story on to supposedly bigger and better things. The problem is that by this point, we've seen it all before. When The Fellowship first encountered a single cave troll all those years ago it was exhilarating, yet here we are presented with a parade of unstoppable giants and trolls and it's simply tedious.
The film suffers from the same pacing issues that bogged down the previous Hobbit instalments, further cementing the argument that the slender book should never have been expanded to a full trilogy. That's not to say it's boring however, the build-up is tense and the battle itself is often enjoyable. The elaborate set-pieces are there without ever being quite as memorable as they have been in the past. Visually it all looks stunning but, at this point, audiences wouldn't accept anything less from this franchise.
Judging this film on its own merits is difficult without looking at where it fits in with the rest of the franchise. All in all The Battle of the Five Armies is fine. It's a likeable piece of escapist cinema which should satisfy most cinemagoers. But is this really what Peter Jackson set out to achieve? After 17 hours (far more if you count extended DVD editions) should we be satisfied with 'fine'? The Hobbit could have been the perfect companion piece to the original trilogy, the cherry on top of an exquisite sundae. Instead it feels more like a bloated slice of Christmas pudding that you struggle to fit in after filling up on turkey, potatoes and all the trimmings. Perfectly fine on its own, but after all that, does it really do anything to justify its existence?