No one can really argue that Peter Jackson’s second Middle Earth trilogy started off a little rocky. Things improved significantly for the second installment, and now with this third installment, we have an entry that has successfully swept us up with the magic that made us fall in love with Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth.
At the center of this film is a 45- minute long film, longer than any battle from the original LOTR trilogy. The action beats are executed wonderfully. Jackson is truly in his element here, using the drama of the Battle of Erebor to move the narrative forward. He knows when to focus in on unique character moments, and knows when to cut back to look at the bigger picture, and given how much is going on here, is a blessing. There are still times, however, where it feels a bit much, and mostly it’s because it doesn’t benefit from the sprawling story lines from the aforementioned films. Where “The Two Towers” and “Return of the King” could break up the action by cutting to Sam and Frodo, this film is confined to the the slopes of Erebor.
Ultimately though, this was my only real gripe with this film. Everything else moved at a nice brisk pace and it’s peppered with some strong performances. Lee Pace effortlessly adds shades to Thranduil, a character that always ran the risk of coming off as too robotic. Martin Freeman continues to charm, and in true Hobbit fashion, continues to surprise us. But he unsung hero here is Richard Armitage. His descent into madness and ascent to leader is the heart of this film. It was also nice to see some great character moments from Middle-Earth denizens from both trilogies. Saruman gets to kick a little ass, and the return of Beorn and Radagast is nothing short of epic.
I’m still not sure that dividing this book into a trilogy was the best decision. But the lesser parts of the film (and by extension, this trilogy) are out-weighed by the wonderful performances, the superb art direction, and the moments that carried the true Tolkien magic. For a last journey through Middle-Earth, it was one I enjoyed taking.
There and back again.