The Hobbit: disappointment or new year’s must see?

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies -- the third installment in Peter Jackson’s overextended Tolkien adaptation -- is that it’s finally over; although at 144 interminable minutes, the film certainly takes its time in getting there.

Incorporating incoherent action, absurd set-pieces and cameos aplenty, The Battle of the Five Armies plays out like bad fan-fiction -- and like the worst of its kind, it doesn’t just fail to stand on its own terms, it retroactively diminishes the lofty standards set out by the original Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The film starts out ably enough, dispatching the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) in just a few minutes; but it quickly devolves into the kind of indulgence that characterized both An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug. The plot of its source material is stretched far beyond reason, which wouldn’t be so bad if its handling wasn’t also unbearably clumsy. Its plot mechanics and characterization are inept (some characters seem to serve no other purpose than to point somewhere on-screen and describe what is already happening) and the CGI-heavy spectacle that once seemed awe-inspiring now plays out as incredibly stale (to say nothing of its visual style and framing, or lack thereof). Perhaps the only remaining glimmer is Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who manages a few genuine moments, although he too is inevitably drowned out in the soulless spectacle of it all -- ironic considering he’s also the titular character.

When Jackson accepted the Best Picture Oscar for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King back in 2004, he joked about fantasy being an f-word in Hollywood; three films later, The Hobbit is now not just fantasy, it’s also a failure. Viewers may be compelled to watch The Battle of the Five Armies out of a sense of loyalty to Jackson, or to obtain some sense of closure from the previous installment. Unfortunately, this trilogy was at least two films too long. Here’s hoping that Jackson leaves The Silmarillion alone.