"The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies" (7.5 out of 10) Directed by Peter Jackson; Starring Ian McKellan, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, and others. Adapted by Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo Del Toro. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. Opens 12/17/14 nationwide.

"The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies" is the final installment in the trilogy of films based on the book "The Hobbit," though it was originally conceived as just two films.

After the monumental success of the "Lord of the Rings" films, I felt able to cut Peter Jackson a lot of slack for his interpretation of the beloved Tolkien masterpiece, "The Hobbit."

The book is a whimsical children's story and can be seen as being at odds with the tone of the final film adaptation in Peter Jackson's life's work. The first film begins in that world, to be sure, but as the company of Dwarves (along with their wizard and burglar), march toward the lonely mountain, so too does the tone of the story begin to match that of the "Lord of the Rings" films. Some might disagree with this choice, but I think it's a choice Tolkien would have made. He himself revised his manuscript of "The Hobbit" once "The Lord of the Rings" was released to make it more in line with the newer stories. In this case, Peter Jackson worked in reverse a bit. 

And this is actually, in my view, one of the strengths of the material. Jackson is able to infuse stakes into these films that matter, even though we know that Sauron is going to end up regaining at least some portion of his power and Bilbo's ring will need to be destroyed. 

This film picks up exactly where last year's installment left off, with Smaug decimating Lake Town and then we're treated to the council of wizards and the Lady Galadriel fighting back the Necromancer in order to rescue Gandalf. Both of these sequences were spectacular, but neither felt like a good start to a film. My biggest complaint about this movie is how disjointed and unwhole it feels. It really does feel like it would be impossible to stand on its own without at least "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" behind it. I would have been more than happy with two four hour movies rather than these three. But that's a moot point as we enter the third film.

Once we're into Erebor and we're given the meat of this film: a battle between five armies. 

Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield is the center of this story, going slowly mad with Dragon Sickness and brings the character more depth than the single dimension we've seen him capable of in the prior two installments. Thorin's bullheadedness is the hinge upon the door to war between the orcs, the humans, the dwarves, and the elves opens. But since you can count, you know there's a fifth army coming at some point as well. 

The man who steals much of the show from Armitage, though, is Billy Connolly, playing Thorin's cousin Dain. From the moment he arrives on his armored warboar, the movie is his and you just want to watch him the entire time. In fact, I wouldn't even mind Peter Jackson figuring out a way to do a movie just about Dain, he's so compelling and funny and watchable. But I'd also love Jackson to tackle "The Silmarillion."

The best thing about this installment is that it gives us things we've never seen in this universe before and have been wanting to. I've always wanted to see an army of mounted dwarves go into battle. I've always wanted to see more a street brawl of a fight in Middle Earth rather than the massive formations we've been privy to. I've always wanted to see Galadriel cut loose and kick some ass. Finally, we're treated to all of these things in a satisfying way. It feels like once and truly we're given the close of a saga that's been almost two decades in the making by now. 

If you've been a fan of the previous two "Hobbit" films and Peter Jackson's take on Middle Earth, you're going to leave this film satisfied and with more than a few tears in your eye. If you've checked out, then there's probably not a point in seeing it. Overall, I'm rating it a 7.5 out of 10 for the severely clunky opening (despite the fact that the sequences were thrilling) and the beautiful look and feel of the battle sequences. It's a worthy close to one of my favorite stories.

As an addendum, I'll admit that I was a little disappointed that the film was not projected at a high frame rate. I'd love to go back and see it in that format. This is a spectacle worthy of it.

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Tags: Lord of the Rings , Hobbiy , Peter Jackson , Hobbit