As has been seen with the past two installments of this series, Jackson's take on the story has been highly expanded, based on materials from the appendices of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. With these two books being the only Tolkien stories available for Jackson to adapt, it's the last chance he has to bring Middle-Earth to life on the big screen.
Whereas just about every previous Middle-Earth film directed by Jackson has opened with a flashback, The Battle of the Five Armies picks up directly where The Desolation of Smaug left off, with Smaug attacking Lake Town. Anyone who's read the book knows what happens next. Anyone who hasn't and doesn't want a spoiler should probably not be reading this...
The survivors from Lake Town go to claim promised treasure from Thorin to rebuild their homes, but Thorin refuses. Meanwhile, in Dol Guldur, the White Council (Galadriel, Saruman, Elrond, and Radagast) rescue Gandalf and drive Sauron into Mordor. Gandalf goes off to the Lonely Mountain to warn Thorin of the approaching orc army led by Azog.
Overall, I'm glad of Jackson's adaptation, but I felt there were a few mangled points in this final film. I'm not going to complain that "It wasn't as good as Return of the King" because of course it isn't. It's a different story, and now, this is part of a saga that Return of the King will end. The Hobbit was never going to reach the same heights as The Lord of the Rings, which is likely one of the reasons why Peter Jackson wanted another director to do it at first. That said, what we're left with is pretty good. Except these points. (SPOILERS.)
- ALFRID - The former assistant of the Master of Lake Town gets several scenes in this film, but they ultimately lead to nothing. Not a reformation, not a satisfying death by orc, nothing. They might as well have had him die with the Master.
- LEGOLAS AND TAURIEL - These two elf characters go off to Gundabad to see... another swarm of orcs and were-bats fly off? They don't try to do a pre-emptive strike or anything. They just watch this new force leave. By the time they get to the battle, the forces have beaten them there, so it's not as if they warned anybody of anything.
- THORIN - Thorin too quickly is affected by the "dragon sickness" and literally looks sick with little lead-in for it. He went from trying to not have this problem at the end of Desolation and suddenly has it.
- PREQUELITIS - This pops up early on with Saruman's final line being "Leave Sauron to me," hinting at what will come in The Lord of the Rings. (Galadriel was scary awesome in the Dol Guldur scenes, by the way.) Even worse is near the end when Legolas says he can't go back home with Thranduil, who tells him to go find the Dunedain, particularly a ranger called Strider. This whole scene was a little painful to see unfold.
- BILBO AT HOME - I rather wish Gandalf had accompanied Bilbo back to Bag End and that there had been a softer transition between the younger Bilbo played by Martin Freeman and the older Bilbo played by Ian Holm.
- AZOG - People have been complaining about Jackson bringing a character that Tolkien had said had died by the time of The Hobbit since An Unexpected Journey. I'll turn a blind eye to source material fidelity and say this... I don't see why they needed Azog specifically. The Lord of the Rings brought us a number of invented leader orcs who did and did not have names mentioned onscreen, and it feels like Azog could have been just about any orc who took a lead of other orcs.
- BATTLE'S END - The final moments of the battle very much wind up as duels between Thorin and Azog and Legolas and Bolg, while we see the eagles arrive and begin to scoop away orcs and drop off Beorn, we don't get any shots that establish the orcs were defeated.
Overall, definitely go see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies while it's still in the theaters as these movies were made to be seen on the big screen with an audience. But the extended home video version will likely be what you'll be watching for years to come.