My thoughts will be relatively short.
The last decade and a half have given us the opportunity to witness three of the new millennium's first decade's best films and three of the second’s most ambitious, if mediocre. It has given us the opportunity to witness the occasional brilliance Peter Jackson can achieve when directing the spectacle and the intimate moment in rapid succession. They have also showed us his apparent weakness for the spectacular, something which served him less than well with The Hobbit’s first installment and which only worked with its second because the moments of spectacle were given slightly lesser weight than the intimate ones.
Unfortunately the third and final Middle Earth installment ever, is saddled with action whose importance in the grand scheme of things is, according to the movie, much greater than it actually is.
For this third Hobbit is hurt most not by its lackluster continuity, as the first one was, but by its apparent lack of care about the characters the audience has been with for the preceding 6 hours.
This is not to say that its action scenes are not entertaining. Quite the opposite, in fact. They are thoroughly so. But they receive so much emphasis it’s hard to imagine what Jackson and co-screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro were thinking. In a movie of such relatively abbreviated runtime as this, to, for instance, take the time to have Legolas do a slow motion jump sequence is an insult to the book, the film series, and everyone who cares even semi-passionately about either of them.
This stands as a detriment to virtually of the performances. Richard Armitage’s great work as an increasingly dragon-sick Thorin Oakenshield is arguably the sole exception. He handles his descent into madness very well and is equally believable in his return to his senses, his scene with Dwalin (I think) being of particular note. That being said, he could have been even better if given more opportunity by Peter Jackson. Some of Jackson’s staging choices and cinematography choices are head-scratchers and his decision to make the gold floor swirl around and stuff instead of zooming in on Armitage’s face is confusing at best. Additionally, one or two more scenes on the recovery end would have done wonders for his performance and would have almost certainly pushed him over the top for me.
Martin Freeman is one of my favorite actors working today because he is so darn likable and because he uses the same stock mannerisms to create such unique characters. He delivers here just as he did in the first two installments. But he could have been even better had Jackson given him more of an opportunity to shine.
There are a few other players worthy of mention. Graham McTavish, who I’m pretty sure plays Dwalin, is my favorite of the dwarves, and Luke Evans follows up his MVP performance in the 2nd movie (by my reckoning) with another solid, if lesser, effort here, that could have been helped by more focus on Jackson’s part. Billy Connolly is thoroughly entertaining in his very short time, and Evangeline Lilly, though largely lost (see what I did there?!?!) and forgotten for most of the movie, somehow makes her ridiculous romance with the hot dwarf worthwhile with her final scene.
On the other side of that coin, Lee Pace once again stinks it up with his effortlessly unintimidating performance. He is supposedly some sort of villain, at least to some degree. His character is given more potential depth in the finale, but he fails to capitalize on it in anything but his final scene, which is admittedly well done. Orlando Bloom is so universally bad all the time in every aspect of his acting career he need not be discussed here.
Howard Shores score brilliantly weaves together all of his prior themes into a wonderful score, and the special effects and set design are excellent as they have been in both of the predecessors, but it’s just not New Zealand, and that’s a real shame.
The one leg up I will give this final Hobbit movie over its predecessors is its credits song, featuring Billy Boyd’s extraordinary and magical voice. Its musical and lyrical tones as well as its instrumentation are all far more in line with the movie’s and series’ tone than those of either of its 2 predecessors were.
So all in all it’s a mixed bag for me. It had tons of potential, only some of which was realized. Peter Jackson’s direction of the action scenes, which are, admittedly, very entertaining, and some of the more comedic scenes, which are very funny and which does not include Bilbo’s return to the Shire, is great, but his inability to discern the less important elements of the story from the more frivolous elements is a shame. Whether this weakness was brought on by his own failings or by the whims of studio executives does not matter as Jackson takes the blame, unfortunate and unfair as that may be.