THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES*** Ends with a Bang not a Whimper


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FREE AT LAST! Free at last!

After about seventeen hours in dark cinemas, over a span of thirteen years, and with a body count of about at least a million dead Orcs, dwarves, elves, humans, hobbits and other random creatures, Peter Jackson’s massive, exhaustive reimagining of Tolkein’s Middle Earth has finally ended.

“The Battle of the Five Armies”, the final of the Hobbit trilogy, ends with the massive treble-underlined moral that has knitted the series together: GREED IS BAD.

We begin almost mid-sentence where the last one ended. (Has it been a year already?) Bilbo and the dwarfs are in Smaug’s treasure-filled cave and the Benedict Cummberbatch-voiced dragon has flown into the night’s darkness with menace on his mind and fire in his belly. The residents of a nearby village are the unlucky victims of the awakened dragon’s anger as it swoops down and rains upon them fiery hell and fury.

Jackson’s technical wizardry is awesome; the sheer imaginative spectacle and visionary scale of the production hits its high-water mark in this the final fling of the series: Smaug’s sinuous swoop into the stricken village and the resulting conflagration of homes, bridges, fragile towers and unlucky people is a visual masterwork.

It’s an exciting, well crafted first chapter, as it sets out the thematic and narrative journey that’s to follow: The Master of Laketown (Stephen Fry) tries to sneak away from his burning village with as much gold as his laden barge can muster. In his gluttony for wealth, he’s prepared to kill anyone who gets in his way. At the same time as this storyline is unfolding, we’re reintroduced to his moral opposite: Bard (Luke Evans, “Dracula Untold”, “Fast and Furious 6”), the selfless, principled father figure who takes it upon himself to plunge into the flaming danger even as the Master flees it, in order to battle the odds and take down the dragon.

Greed and goodness.

In Jackson’s simple morality play, it is the toxic opposites of such greed and goodness that wrestle for supremacy. It’s not so much a battle of five armies but a battle of those two.

And they’re both at war for the soul of Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), leader of the dwarfs, who, when we meet him, is sinking under the spell of Smaug’s limitless treasures. Whereas the ring was the object of dark and dangerous temptation in “Lord of the Rings”, here it’s simply gold. Thorin’s degeneration epitomizes the evils of greed, this fearless leader having become petulant, suspicious, inhuman and domineering.

It’s up to Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the good-natured, naive, brave little hobbit to rekindle Thorin’s intrinsic decency and free him from his gold-drugged dependency.

This moral journey is set in a landscape of fragile alliances as armies battle to save Middle Earth from Sauron and the Orcs. In the midst of all this war is the briefly sketched – doomed – love story between a dwarf (Aidan Turner as Kili) and an elf (Evangelina Lilly of “Lost” as Tauriel). The elves are basically a snobby superior (and stunningly well dressed) species who won’t tolerate the purity of their blood-line being sullied by too much fraternization with dwarfs. Even in Middle Earth, inter-species/inter-racial relationships are infradig.

But, love will out, even amidst the anger of war.

And oh what a lovely war. The serried ranks of armoured men clash violently against each other, like metallic waves. Brave elvin and dwarfish heroes ride into bristling thorns of lances and slashing swords, lopping off arms and heads with daredevil impunity. Huge monsters charge and shatter fortifications as if they were mere children’s blocks; swift footed archer, Legolas (Orlando Bloom), fells anyone in his way; booming voices issue stentorian martial commands, “Fall back!” “Cut them off at the pass!” etc.

All very jolly and bloodless and epic and meticulously well staged.

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And we’ve seen it all before. There’s certainly a sense of déjà vu in the entire proceedings: if you didn’t really like any of the others, this last outing certainly won’t change your mind. But if Mr. Jackson kept dragging you back time and again to see his latest reiteration of basically the same old story with the same old cast, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is a fine note to end on.

And it ends as it began all those years ago. The shire’s undulating valleys are bountifully green and cheerful. Bilbo is at home, now an old man, fingering a ring when there’s a knock at the door.

“Who goes?” he asks

“It’s your old friend,” comes the reply from without, “Gandalf”

And we all know what comes next.

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