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Martin Freeman, left, as Bilbo and Ken Stott as Balin in the fantasy adventure, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” Photo by Mark Pokorny
Martin Freeman, left, as Bilbo and Ken Stott as Balin in the fantasy adventure, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” Photo by Mark Pokorny
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Film review: Gigantic ‘Battle’ closes out another grand adventure

A satisfying conclusion to a worthwhile journey, “The Battle of the Five Armies” ends “The Hobbit” on a high note.

In their efforts to reclaim the Lonely Mountain, Thorin Oakenshield, his band of Dwarves, and Bilbo Baggins inadvertently unleash the fury of the dragon Smaug on the nearby Lake-town. But the fire-breathing monster’s wrath is only the beginning of their problems, because the newly returned Sauron has now dispatched an Orc army to destroy them.

With the enemy fast approaching and two parties of Men and Elves demanding their shares of the Dwarves’ treasure, Bilbo finds himself participating in the ultimate fight to defend the kingdom his friends have struggled for so long to take back.

Well, Middle-earth fans, this is it: the moment we’ve been waiting to see since “The Hobbit” began. We wanted a titanic finale, and now we’ve got one. After having experienced both “An Unexpected Journey” and “The Desolation of Smaug,” it gives me great honor to announce that “The Battle of the Five Armies” is a guaranteed victory, one that will certainly please those who have stayed true to the three-part epic.

The grand scale of this fantasy adventure’s conclusion gives rise to colossal visuals and terrific set pieces, bigger and better than what we’ve witnessed previously. Smaug’s attack on Lake-town is explosively effective in kicking off the third chapter; same goes for the fight deep within the insidious Dol Guldur stronghold, where some familiar faces from “The Lord of the Rings” really go all out to oppose the evil surrounding them.

Of course, the real high point of the film is the Battle of the Five Armies, where our heroes are forced to engage in a gigantic clash involving Dwarves, Elves, Men, Orcs, and more. With troops charging headlong into the fray and key players dueling each other, this exciting multi-part action sequence is as titanic as it gets.

Despite a shorter runtime of 144 minutes, the pacing of the last section of “The Hobbit” is still lengthy, which doesn’t surprise me considering Peter Jackson’s history with Middle-earth. After a fiery beginning, the film slows down quite a bit as the consequences of what happened unfold. Here is where the internal arguments and hair-trigger confrontations emerge, establishing the groundwork for a mighty conflict of fantastic proportions.

As flawed as this aspect is, fans need not worry about losing interest in the plot, because each and every event occurring after the starting point adds to the tense situation forming before the characters’ eyes. And I’m grateful for the fact that the momentum quickens as the advancing Orc forces prepare to attack the Lonely Mountain and anyone standing in their way.

At this point the audience pretty much knows the characters enough to understand the challenges they face in this spectacular fight to the finish; however, Jackson never forsakes them.

If anything, his reliable direction clearly cares for these individuals and understands what will become of them.

Martin Freeman succeeds in highlighting Bilbo’s newly attained wisdom and bravery, truly coming into his own as his personal journey reaches its end. Matching him at every turn is Richard Armitage, who imbues Thorin with an electrifying complexity as he undergoes a far-reaching transformation.

Ian McKellen and Orlando Bloom have always been impressive as Gandalf and Legolas, respectively; from what I can see, they’re still shining as brightly as ever. Evangeline Lilly has this remarkable resolve about her that suits Tauriel’s warrior responsibilities, and her chemistry with Aidan Turner, who plays Kíli, is tender and genuine.

Luke Evans proves to be a solid Bard the Bowman, maintaining a good balance between valiant leader and caring father.

As Azog the Defiler, Manu Bennett instills a vengeful ferocity in the Orc leader, relishing every chance he gets to obliterate his targets. Benedict Cumberbatch, who portrays Smaug, lights up the screen in what promises to be the dragon’s finest hour.

All who have enjoyed “The Hobbit” so far will get their money’s worth with “The Battle of the Five Armies,” which, after two dependable previous installments, completes the journey that fulfilled the vow it made to audiences                         back in 2012.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence and frightening images.

Run time: 2 hours 24 minutes

Playing: Opens Dec. 17