The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Director: Peter jackson (2014)

Fighting on too many fronts is never a good idea and this epic fantasy trilogy comes to an underwhelming close.

Scale is epic and design is stunning and performances suitably large and loud but sadly the massive battles and computer effects are better than the storytelling of the human (elf, hobbit or dwarf) dramas.

This should be a straightforward tale of greed set against the backdrop of a brutal battle. But instead it becomes confused and stuck in a quagmire of subplots as too many minor characters fight for screen time.

Fili or possibly Kili aside, the company of dwarves are lost in the morass while cowardly Alfrid lickspittle (Ryan Gage) is crow-barred in to offer comic relief and clutter the over-stuffed cast list.

Hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is virtually a spectator and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) does little better. This is a shame as Freeman brings rare moments of contemplative quiet among what is otherwise a ferocious and overextended dust up.

Elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is levered in to silly effect and the dwarf/elf romance between Fili or possibly Kili and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) is developed and is even more unconvincing than it sounds.

Five Armies begins where the last film, The Desolation of Smaug, ended, with a brilliantly exciting attack by the dragon Smaug on Laketown.

He is stopped by heroic bowman Bard (Luke Evans) and with Smaug’s death, dwarf Thorin (Richard Armitage) becomes king of Erebor but his obsession with gold is turning him insane.

Elf lord Thranduil (Lee Pace), riding a giant moose and heading his golden army, joins up with Bard’s men to  challenge Thorin.

But they all unite when legions of orcs arrive and the skull-splitting slaughter begins. Arrows fly, swords crash and heads roll as armoured trolls, goats, pigs, eagles and a free-falling bear drop into the action.

The action and design are spectacular and the film dovetails nicely  into the first Lord of the Rings movie.

By trying to hit too many targets, the previously sure-sighted director Peter Jackson misses the mark.

☆☆

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Director: Peter jackson (2013)

This second part of The Hobbit trilogy is a brilliant combination of solid gold action and spellbinding fun.

It looks glorious – from the magnificent and enormous mountain kingdom to the tiniest gold coin. The furnaces and forges are massive, built on a Herculean scale worthy of my native Teesside. The music is thunderously epic, scenery stunning and the action fantastic.

On top of all this there are dark and scary elements. Paranoia, corruption and madness are never far from the surface in the script.

There are big changes to Tolkien’s book in the confrontation between Bilbo and Smaug, plus there is an entirely new character called Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly).

She’s a kick-ass elven warrior who supplies some welcome female warmth among the bushy-browed band of brothers though her story arc may be an invention too far Jackson.

Underpinning this amazing adventure are the captivating characters of Gandalf the wizard, Bilbo the hobbit and dwarf chief Thorin, portrayed with charm and talent by Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage.

The horde of squabbling dwarves are played by the same actors as in the previous film and Orlando Bloom returns as the elvish prince Legolas.

Gandalf goes off to investigate the mysterious Necromancer, meanwhile Thorin continues to lead his dwarves on their quest to rightfully reclaim their Lonely Mountain kingdom from Smaug the dragon.

The superbly animated fire-breathing monster, who rests on a hill of gold, is voiced with chilling reptilian menace by Freeman’s Sherlock co-star Benedict Cumberbatch.

In one of 2013’s best action sequences the heroes shoot down a river in barrels while being chased by both elves and orcs.

Bilbo and the dozen dwarves are attacked by giant spiders, imprisoned by elves and captured by men yet the ferociously paced Hobbit is still packed with humour.

They use swords, arrows, knives and axes to fend off orcs, wolves and giant bears while lurking at the end of their quest, a ferocious fire-breathing dragon.

With much enthusiastic slaying, smiting and beheading, our heroes, ride, run and fight their way through streets, forest and caverns, from the diseased and dangerous Mirkwood forest to the ramshackle Laketown and into The Lonely Mountain itself where it ends in a flash – of gold and fire.