Published Mar 31, 2015Anne McCaffrey would be very upset. In Smaug, Peter Jackson has one of the most intriguing dragons in fantasy history. And yet within 10 minutes of the third and final Hobbit movie starting, he's gone. Chalk it up as one more reason why the book never should have been chopped up into three films in the first place.
With Laketown destroyed by Smaug, its inhabitants flee to the Misty Mountain, hoping to enlist the help of the Thorin and the dwarves. They discover that the dwarf king is afflicted with dragon sickness as he searches for the Arkenstone amongst Smaug's many golden treasures. Rebuffed, the Laketowners, led by Bard, retreat to the ruined Dale where they plot their revenge. They're soon joined by the woodland elves, whose king, Thranduil, also seeks part of the mountain's treasures. Thorin summons his dwarf cousins, but a pair of marauding orc armies, out to claim Misty Mountain for their — and their master Sauron's — own strategic purposes interrupts the ensuing standoff.
Framing the film is Sauron's return, foreshadowing the events of the proceeding Rings trilogy. Gandalf, imprisoned by Sauron's minions at Dol Guldur, is rescued, but not before Sauron and his Nazgûl reveal themselves. It provides some added heft to an otherwise relatively lightweight tale, but it also overcomplicates matters for anyone not already deep into Middle-Earth lore.
Finding that balance between The Hobbit's simple tale and Tolkien's dense mythology has eluded Jackson throughout the Hobbit films, and he can't quite find it here, either. The subplots don't detract from the fact that this film is essentially an hour and a half of getting ready for battle and then another hour of the actual battle. Jackson had to invent a cross-species romantic subplot between Kili and Tauriel to keep the dramatic fires burning.
His action sequences remain a head above his peers and imitators, but unfortunately, lesser versions of these scenes have eroded audience attentions. Where the Battle of Helms Deep once seemed fresh and new, a dozen years later an even larger and longer such sequence tries the patience. We know the beats of each scene, and few of the characters here manage to endear themselves the way that the Rings trilogy's Fellowship did.
Battle of the Five Armies isn't the worst film in Jackson's Tolkien adaptations — that would be the first of the Hobbit films — but its anticlimactic end still feels like a whimper. If only Jackson had figured out a way to keep the dragon around a bit longer.
Though casually enjoyable, it's also a relief to know that this is the last of these sweeping epics. At least until some suit decides to adapt The Silmarillion or just reboot the whole thing entirely.