The Hobbit - The Battle of Five Armies does exactly what it says on the tin. It's a battle between five armies - the dwarves, the elves, the humans, the goblins and the wargs.
The film opens with Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) destroying Lake-town as Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) attempts to guide Kili (Aidan Turner), a couple of the other dwarves and bard's children to safety. Bard (Luke Evans) manages to escape from his prison cell, and as the city goes up in flames and Smaug swoops overhead, he goes face to face with the dragon. It's an explosive opening, full of drama, tension and oh my goodness moments, and paves the way for an action packed film.
The heroic Bard decides the only way the people of Lake-town will find shelter is if they visit Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) in the Lonely Mountain and claim the gold he promised them. But Thorin is not so willing to keep to his oaths, and has instead descended into madness as he hunts in the treasures of the Lonely Mountain for the Arkenstone, a gem shaped by one of Thorin's ancestors.
Bard and Thorin are deliberately set out as opposites, with Evans playing the hero convincingly. It's just a pity that he disappears towards the end of the film, with the story of the men ending way too early and being sacrificed for some of the more impressive looking battles. Meanwhile, Armitage's Thorin is loathsome, although we do see glimpses of the charming and likeable dwarf. His redemption arc isn't really an arc though, it's like one of the giant eagles came in and picked him up when he was at rock bottom and yanked him in a vertical line back up to being a good person. It's kind of sudden, but you can forgive it.
What I can't really forgive is the awful love triangle between Thoriel, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Kili. It's boring, detracts from the action of the film, and is not at all believable - there's little passion between Kili and Thoriel, and Legolas' pining creates a character that is completely out of sync with how we find him in The Lord of the Rings. In The Lord of the Rings the love story between Aragorn and Arwen is beautiful, in The Battle of Five Armies the love story is a drag.
And the reason I've mentioned director Peter Jackson's other J R R Tolkein trilogy is because it's constantly referred to in The Battle of Five Armies. And not always in a good way. It works when we see Saruman staying behind to deal with the fall out after Sauron attacks Gandalf, who is being rescued by Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving). But it doesn't work when Legolas flips onto the back of a giant thing in a mirror of flipping onto an elephant in The Return of the King, or when Thranduil (Lee Pace) directs Legolas to go find Strider. The hints are in your face, and distracting because they're so obvious.
But really, I've spent too large an amount of space complaining, because I actually loved the film. The battle scenes are so beautifully choreographed I almost gasped at times at just how stunning they were. Yes, it's all very safe and there's no blood, but the scenes are still just gorgeous. And the CGI is absolutely brilliant too.
And I can't believe I've got this far without mentioning Bilbo (Martin Freeman) who is the real heart of the film. He, rather than Bard, is the true foil to Thorin. Where Thorin is loud and mad, Bilbo is quiet and sensible. The pair's clashes are filled with tension, while the quieter moments between the two are touching and so filled with friendship that the conclusion of their tale brings a tear to the eye.
The Battle of Five Armies would have had to perform miracles to have been as good as the conclusions to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it didn't. It remains in the shadows of the mountain that is The Return if the King, but that doesn't mean it's not a good film. It's a great film, with some fantastic, jaw-dropping moments. And for those people who have grown up watching Jackson create magic on screen, it is a fitting, loving finale to a great series of films.