The much anticipated third and final installment of The Hobbit is a two and a half hour blockbuster that focuses primarily on the huge battle between the dwarves, elves and orcs for the mountain Erebore and the vast wealth of gold to be found inside, most notably the Arkenstone, the mountain's crown jewel.
If you haven't seen the previous two Hobbit films before this one, we advise you do so as director Peter Jackson decides there's no need to ease us in gently with a recap of what's gone on beforehand. Instead we're landed in the middle of a panicked Lake-Town as the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) decimates its every inch with his fiery breath. The non-stop action is breathtaking as Smaug flies in and out of shot destroying everything in his path. Eventually though, the seemingly unstoppable dragon is laid to waste by Bard the Bowman who pierces its heart with an enormous steel arrow. And all of this before the opening credits!
The prologue sets the mood for the entire movie. Peter Jackson has taken the name quite literally and given us an all-out, action-packed and anarchy-laden epic. However fun that may sound, it comes at a price. Too many primary characters play disappointingly periphery roles. Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit himself, for example, features as more of a comedic pawn to the action than the central figure we expect him to be. Then there are the side stories which could have been so easily left out. A drawn-out scene with Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaver) and Sarumon (Christopher Lee), as they attempt to rescue good oul Gandalf, is unnecessarily long and adds very little (if anything) to the film's lengthy plot.
Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, the king of the dwarves, is the undoubted star of the show. His character comes across as quite Shakespearian as he battles his inner-demons before finally overcoming them to become the hero of the piece. His final battle with the orc leader Azog (Manu Bennett) is thrilling from start to finish while the fleet-footed Legolas (Orlando Bloom) provides some arrow-laden support from afar (as always!). Bloom's far-fetched character is one which particularly grates in the eyes of Hobbit fans as Legolas doesn't actually feature in the book at any stage.
Most will enjoy the fast-paced, frenzied fight scenes; it's hard not to. They're fantastically framed and Jackson's decision to focus on individual fights rather than the battle as a whole allows the viewer to immerse themselves in the action. Furthermore, amongst all the bloodshed, beheadings and orc bashing, there is a sweet and unlikely love story between a dwarf and an elf.
For the average viewer, however, the film lacks depth. There are too many characters to keep up with and too many unecessary scenes. It could have been condensed down to a half hour and tagged on to the end of the Desolation of Smaug and nobody would have been any the wiser. We'll miss Peter Jackson's interpretation of Middle Earth but at the same time, we're ready to let go.