By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features Film Critic
Dwarves, wood-elves, Lake-men, orcs, giants, eagles, battle-bats, wizards and wereworms show up for duty in spectacular fashion in “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” the frantic final installment of director/cowriter Peter Jackson’s three-film adaptation of author J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel. Even if it’s sometimes tough keeping all of the odd names straight and making sense of Middle-earth geopolitics, you don’t have to be an Oxford don to appreciate sensational sword-slinging on this grand a scale.
The previous film in the trilogy about a humble hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) accompanying a band of dwarves seeking to regain their mountain of gold ended with Smaug the fire-breathing dragon (voiced with sinister maliciousness by Benedict Cumberbatch) flying off to destroy the human village of Lake Town. That he nearly does, turning the place into a raging inferno before confronting the hunky and heroic Bard (Luke Evans). Bard leads survivors of that encounter to the mountain, hoping for promised help from dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Unfortunately, Thorin turns out to have undergone a rather nasty gold-fever personality change that’s made him selfish, paranoid and hateful.
An army of elves, led by the coldly imperious Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace) and seeking the return of their own stolen jewels that are part of the mountain stronghold, also are rebuffed by Thorin. Bilbo tries keeping the peace when the elves plan to join forces with the humans to fight the dwarves. Those negotiations are rudely interrupted by the arrival of well-armed dwarf reinforcements. When rampaging hordes of monstrous orcs also arrive on the scene seeking the treasure, all hell pretty much breaks loose for the rest of the movie.