The law of film trilogies is clear; it is almost always without exception the second film in a given trilogy that is the most adventurous and exciting. It is in the second film where all pretences of character-building are removed, and the necessity to tie up a story in a satisfying conclusion can be deferred until the final instalment. Indeed, the scenes between the dragon Smaug and the hobbit Bilbo beneath the Lonely Mountain at the close of Desolation of Smaug, followed by the dragon’s flight towards the nearby Laketown, were by far the highlights of Peter Jackson’s largely erroneous three-part Hobbit series up to that point.
Alas, The Battle of the Five Armies (renamed during the year from the original title, There And Back Again) fails to reach the enjoyment level of Desolation of Smaug, even though that bar wasn’t set particularly high. That old cinematic trope of perspective has been laid aside in favour of spectacle, which manifests itself here in a big huge scrap in a field at the foot of the Lonely Mountain between the armies of men, elves, dwarves, orcs and surprise fifth race that comes along at the end to tidy everything up.
Instead of showing us the hobbit’s perspective we are given multiple narratives which play out in and around the battlefield. These range from the good (Thorin’s descent into egomania mixed with his respect for Bilbo’s simple life) to the downright awful (the still oppressively ridiculous relationship between Kili the dwarf and Tauriel the elf), to the “haven’t we seen this before?” (Bard the Bowman’s defence of Dale exactly mirroring Aragorn’s defence of Gondor in Return of the King). The battles are marred by repeated last second rescues, to the point that you begin to anticipate them and lose interest in the drama as a result.
But there are two aspects of the film that make it watchable despite its many flaws. First is the personalities who populate the screen, from the ever-relatable Martin Freeman in the eponymous role, to the always charismatic Ian McKellan as Gandalf and even the odd Stephen Fry or Billy Connolly cameo to keep things interesting. The second is the incredible visuals, amazing in terms of character design, set design and the cutting edge standard of the CGI employed here. It’s such a visual splendour that you could almost begin to forget that the film, as a whole, is not very good. Almost. In cinemas 12 December. Watch the trailer here.