The Hobbit review: It's an epic battle just to stay awake during The Battle of the Five Armies
It may boast a big budget, but the last instalment of this overlong fantasy trilogy has little else going for it, says Andrew Johnston.
If Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy was the director's equivalent of a band's classic, early albums, then the third and final Hobbit movie has the feel of a bunch of over-the-hill rockers getting together for one last, money-making tour. And if The Return of the King was Jackson's Greatest Hits, then The Battle of the Five Armies is his B-Sides & Leftovers album.
There is nothing here we haven't seen many times before, done many times better. The story picks up where last year's The Desolation of Smaug left off, with the titular dragon wreaking havoc on Lake-town. Following an opening, fiery showdown, we settle into an hour of men in beards pacing about, looking earnest, while various computer-generated beasties mass on far-off mountain-tops. It's all building to the promised five-way clash, though this writer only counted four parties: Orcs, Dwarves, Elves and Men. Perhaps number five is the audience, fighting to stay awake.
It's hard for viewers to engage passionately with a film when it's clear the director himself is so utterly bored. Jackson isn't so much going through the motions as leaping through them on a flaming motorcycle.
All that saves The Battle of the Five Armies from sinking into oblivion is the quality of the cast. Acting-wise, Martin Freeman, as Bilbo Baggins, and Ian McKellen, making his sixth appearance as Gandalf the Grey, never let the quality dip, investing proceedings with some much-needed humanity. It's also pleasing to see 92-year-old Christopher Lee returning as the evil wizard Saruman, though his stunt double lives up to his job title by getting about twice the amount of screentime.
As for Northern Ireland's own James Nesbitt, who plays a Dwarf named Bofur, let us hope the actor managed to do lots of sightseeing while in New Zealand, as his fleeting work in The Battle of the Five Armies would scarcely warrant a trip to the other side of Coleraine, let alone the world.
As a financial enterprise, Jackson's Hobbit series has been a roaring success. As entertainment, it has been more of a rasp. Yet there have been moments to enjoy in the previous entries, most notably The Desolation of Smaug's exhilarating barrel ride, which is the closest this series has come to matching up to Jackson's original trilogy. But once The Battle of the Five Armies reaches the hour mark, Jackson all but gives up. The interminable battle scenes are like watching an Xbox demo sequence, as one sprawling set of CGI figures faces off against another.
Most damning of all, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is definitive proof that Tolkien's slim predecessor to The Lord of the Rings was never fit to be split into three movies. Its 300 or so pages may have generated more than a billion pounds, with the third instalment set to push that figure close to two billion, but the trilogy has little artistic merit.
After The Battle of the Five Armies has hoovered up its last banknote, Jackson will hopefully return to the vibrant, small-scale filmmaking that made his name and give us a new Bad Taste or Braindead.
Or perhaps we have a 12-part serialisation of JRR Tolkien's note to the milkman to look forward to, in 48fps IMAX 3D, of course.