Certain things are to be expected by this stage in a series and, on many counts, this doesn’t disappoint. For two hours and twenty minutes we are treated to a visual feast mixing live action with photo-real computer generated animations and, as has become the series’ trademark, indistinguishable performance capture.
From the start The Battle of the Five Armies doesn’t let up dropping us into the heart of Smaug’s attack on Laketown, where the previous film ended. As it goes on we see a range of conflict from the personal and small-scale (Thorin’s inner battle and conflict with his loyal band) to the genuinely epic (the titular climactic clash, that goes on for around half the film).
While this makes for an amazing spectacle, there are points where I found it hard to engage with what was going on. This was especially noticeable in the opening sequence where, unless you’d just watched the previous movie, there was no chance to really re-acquaint yourself with the many characters.
As the film goes on reconnection does occur and a few of the hints of the character work that made the previous films, particularly the Lord of the Rings series, so engaging return.
This is particularly evident when the real top-level actors in the cast are given their time away from the near non-stop action, with Ian McKellen and Martin Freeman doing a great job of taking dialogue that could be painfully ridiculous and delivering with real scenery chewing conviction, but also a sense of fun.
Cameos from Christopher Lee and Cate Blanchett also have this quality, though they are brief and, unfortunately, there are many points where no one is given much chance to actually act as action takes centre stage.
The main issue the film has is that throughout, it feels like a third act so, while an attempt is made to make it work in its own terms, this is never successful. This means that watching The Battle of the Five Armies in isolation is a strange experience that is, ultimately, less than satisfying.
In its climactic moments though the film does manage to pull back something of the grandeur that marked Lord of the Rings, and even the previous Hobbit films as Thorin’s story (which really is what a lot of this series has been about) reaches its climax and the wheels are set in motion that lead into Frodo and company’s adventures.
Though once again the entire saga’s Deus Ex Machina, the giant eagles, strike again.
While The Battle of the Five Armies may not be the epic conclusion that I can’t help but feel such a vast saga should have, it is certainly a spectacular and enjoyable visual feast. That said I can’t help but feel it will work much better when viewed closely alongside the other films in the series.