Peter Jackson's final 'Hobbit' installment stumbles

Bleary visuals, a blearier narrative and a stage groaning with characters in search of a stopping point—The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies is the keystone in the arch between the two trilogies, and the masonry is shaky.

Once upon a time, the fate of Middle Earth depended on locating the dread ring of power; now it’s all about debt collection. Refugee Lake Town people try to pick up their share of the dwarves’ loot. Following them, an army of elves arrives, trying to retrieve a pawned necklace. The toxic gold hoard of the dear departed Smaug is poisoning Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), handsomest and tallest of the dwarves. Battalions of orcs arrives, riding their giant hyenas. Also coming in for the fight: Thorin’s relative, a hog-mounted dwarf named Dain (Billy Connolly).

There are only a few scenes in all the scrimmage where it seems that director Peter Jackson doesn’t get his yarn tangled. One is the moment where we see the huge orc Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett of TV’s Arrow) floating in the water under a layer of ice after his fight with Thorin. Better still is the weirdly intimate way these two combatants, dwarf and orc, look at each other when they’re temporarily exhausted—it’s the observant detail that would have been noted in Beowulf. During another fray, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) tosses his fine silver braids and reaches back for an arrow with that sure smooth gesture we love—only to find his quiver empty.

The rest, one can shrug off. The CG is as thick as mayonnaise, and is often used to laughable effect. In one scene, as a castle falls, Legolas runs up the tumbling stones of the building like a staircase, as if he were Bugs Bunny.

Other parts just seem ill-advised. When the orc Bolg (Lawrence Makoare) corners the only female in the picture to get more than five minutes onscreen, Evangeline Lilly’s warrior elf Tauriel, he licks the place where his lips would be. Rapiness isn’t quite what you expect from this epic.

‘The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies’ is playing in wide North Bay release.

Sonoma County Library