The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Aidan Turner, Evangeline Lilly, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Billy Connolly, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, James Nesbitt, Lee Pace, Dean O'Gorman

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Rating: 1 2 3

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Love it or loathe it, since The Fellowship of the Ring first hit our screens in 2001, Peter Jackson's Middle Earth saga has become as intrinsic a part of the festive season as sprouts, crackers and Noddy Holder. But now the end is nigh, and our motley crew of hobbits, dwarves, wizards and elves face the final curtain in the mighty clash of overwrought CGI that is The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies.

The Hobbit 2 abandoned our company of dwarves plus hobbit in the shady depths of the Kingdom of Erebor, while its erstwhile ruler, Smaug the dragon, rained fire over nearby Lake Town, and episode three throws us straight back into the action. Will the super hot but wearily po-faced Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) manage to pierce the dragon in his one weak spot?

Richard Armitage as Thorin in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Moving on, it soon transpires that a renegade dragon is the least of everyone's worries, as armies of men and elves converge on the dwarf mountain, all keen to regain the treasure that lies within. Meanwhile, dwarf king Thorin (the lovely Richard Armitage), driven kinda bonkers by all that gold and indisposed to let anyone else get their strange prosthetic paws on it, is barricading himself into the mountain with his reluctant dwarf cohorts. Good job Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is there to broker a truce between all these bristling balls of armoured testosterone. Or not...

Moving on (again), who cares when there's a vast army of New Zealand rugby players disguised as orcs on the march? Let battle commence...

Luke Evans as Bard and Orlando Bloom as LegolasAnd nobody does CGI battles like Peter Jackson, mixing huge scale, epic action with delightful individual detail (watch out for the trolls enlisted in the orc army – they rock!). Yes, it does all go on a bit (particularly the many computer game-tastic fights involving Legolas (Orlando Bloom) – c'mon, we all know survives into the next three films) but as pure clash of steel spectacle it's really quite astounding. Plus if you've read the book and know the fate in store for Thorin, let's just say it's very well done – although even a Tolkein lightweight like me can live without the strained romance between made-up elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and dwarf hottie Kili (Aidan Turner).

Ultimately, however, while Jackson has done his no-holds-barred imaginative best to pad out a slim child's book to a full-blown legendary trilogy, The Hobbits simply can't match the effortless epic grandeur of the Lord of the Rings movies. So while Five Armies looks amazing, with strong performances and plenty of entertaining nonsense going on in the background (as has been noted, there's no situation that can't be improved by an eagle dropping a bear onto an army of orcs), as you may have picked up from the somewhat sarky tone of this review, it's hard to take it seriously, to really lose yourself in the action.

Am I a little sad that something that's been such a big part of Christmas for almost all my married life is now over? Yes and no, because no doubt the moment we hear the first 'It's Chriiistmas' of 2015, we'll also be hearing the dull thunk of the super-extended four hour director's cut hitting the doormat...

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