It’s the end of an era – and an adventure for a Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (played by Martin Freeman – who has long dumped his The Office persona) that started in 2012. What better way to conclude it than an almighty battle to define all battles. This episode is much like writer-director Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) in grandeur – a right royal punch-up that delivers what its title suggests. It starts and ends with iconic scenes, very different in temperament, but both equally memorable, picking up from last time when the fearsome dragon, Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), is about to attack the village at the foot of the hills holding the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.
Fans will know what to expect next in this finale, that of the dwarves, men of the dale, elves, orcs and shape-shifters having it out near the Lonely Mountain. This film does not disappoint with the character tension gradually building up to that point, but serving bursts of indifference to get you in the mood as sides fall out – and even allies.
Those not familiar with the novel but expecting more ‘back story’ after the last film, The Desolation of Smaug (2013), seeing the dwarves finally making it home might be disappointed as any jubilant homecoming is a bit thin on the ground. It’s not until gold-blinded legendary warrior and now appointed Dwarf King, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) charges out of his stronghold, Erebor to join his family member (hilariously voiced by Billy Connolly) that things get more interesting.
In the meantime, Jackson has something for every fan of each faction to delight in, seeing their heroes in action as greed takes grip (very topical in today’s consumer-led society) – or further evil unfolds in the orcs’ case. Among the fighting though, Jackson almost ‘pauses’ the mayhem to deliver key relationship nuggets of J.R.R. Tolkien’s infamous story that help break up proceedings.
The returning cast were never ‘away’ as such, having filmed their scenes concurrently, and all give splendid performances for the last time. Particularly praiseworthy is Luke Evans as Bard who gets an impressive opener. He then goes on to act as the definition of a mortal leader as the odds are against him and his townsfolk. Ian McKellen’s Gandalf is like the ancient uncle that won’t go away, more worse for wear, and seems to pop up and act in his own parallel universe (even in the midst of battle), once freed from captivity.
Apart from an oddly ‘animated’ Orlando Bloom – like some creepy, plastic-skinned avatar – the effects are outstanding as Jackson reproduces his armies of hundreds, never failing on detail for the sake of the action. The most iconic action scene has the least number of players, that of the clash between Thorin and leader of the orcs, Azog (Manu Bennett), on the ice. It has a certain ballet-esque beauty to it, even with two ungraceful warriors involved. It’s another emotional high point of the film, more subdued and sombre in delivery, considering the dispensing of evil thus begins.
Jackson has done justice to Tolkien’s novel’s final saga, giving it more personality in the midst of war, and more action to feast on in a big-screen environment. Indeed, the 3D works to add depth to the battlefields, and particularly the impressive architecture and landscapes. At the end, we are reminded how it all started, as a sigh of acknowledgement accompanies a feeling of sadness that we have now witnessed all that Jackson’s take on Tolkien has to offer.