The Battle of the Armies ends Peter Jackson’s six-film and almost 15-year love affair with the works of Tolkein (ends, that is, unless he starts dredging up some of the dodgier parts of “The Silmarrilion”).
Having woken Smaug, the fire-breathing dragon, deliciously voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, the beast proceeds to fry the poor residents of the community of Laketown in a flash-bang-wallop pre-title sequence.
This concludes with the Lonely Mountain, and its vast fortune in gold and treasured heirlooms, becoming a vacant property that the company of dwarves, headed by Thorin (Richard Armitage) and Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) move into. This is no ordinary squat however, and the strategic importance of the mountain leads to hoards of elves and orcs, together with the refugees of Laketown, converging on the stronghold in an epic struggle for power. Throw into the mix a forbidden inter-racial love story between the dwarf Kili (Aiden Turner) and the elf princess Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the struggles of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) against the emerging darkness of Sauron and you end up with an eventful and entertaining ending to the saga.
The film is, as you would expect, a tour de force of special effects from beginning to end, although Jackson sometimes over-eggs the pudding: a slow-motion bridge collapse under a leaping Legolas (a strangely CGI’d Orlando Bloom) being a particular case in point – the sequence feels like having been sponsored by the spin-off video game company!
The movie is also extremely ‘battle-heavy’ (or “a bit fighty” as my wife succinctly puts it) – the last two thirds of the film is pretty much an ongoing pitched battle with very little let up. If unrelenting sword-play and decapitations are not your bag, then this is probably not a film you will enjoy that much.
It has to be said though that all of the performances are top notch, with Richard Armitage being particularly effective as Thorin, alternately fighting and then succumbing to the gold-induced ‘Dragon-fever’. Billy Connolly also adds some much needed humour to the story in his role as a dwarf warlord, and the nation’s beloved Stephen Fry entertains as the greedy and superior Master of Laketown, destined (obviously) to get his comeuppance.
If this film was a one-off, I would be reviewing it as a “Wow, that was amazing!” film. As it is the LOTR equivalent of “Police Academy 6”, my opinion is rather tarnished and whilst the film is workmanlike and entertaining, there is a feeling of ’same old, same old’ about it. Another problem I found with this being a prequel to the original series is that the addition of ’new’ creatures and tactics often doesn’t ring true. For example, the orc armies take full advantage of some very useful giant worms and their mounted rides include enormous and very effective troll creatures. This unfortunately begs the question as to why these significant battle assets were not deployed in the “The Return of the King” – surely they were better than those lumbering elephant things? (I realise, of course, the unreasonableness of in turns criticising a film for being samey and then criticising it for adding new stuff: hey, I’m a film critic – bite me!)
So, in summary, Jackson pulls the finale off with aplomb, and the final title song “The Last Goodbye” (sung by Billy Boyd, Pippin in the LOTR series) probably neatly expressed the sorrow felt by the director in coming to the end of his saga.
Fad Rating: FFFf.