Admittedly, I haven't been too impressed with the Hobbit trilogy. Though The Lord of the Rings was a freakishly long series of films, at least it was dense with information, characters, and plot. The Hobbit, on the other hand, had always felt padded, as in hairy hobbit feet padding over the rivers, through the woods, across the mountains, etc, etc. It really wasn't until this third and final movie that I felt like I was seeing a story that was actually adding to the Middle Earth mythology. And that is a good thing.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies picks up in the heat of the action. The dragon Smaug has just been awakened and is wreaking fire-breathing wrath upon Laketown... and the Dwarves (still up in Smaug's lair) feel a little bad about it. Just a little though--remember Thorin (Richard Armitage) and Co. are literally sitting in a huge cavern full of gold and riches. It is not too much of a stretch to predict that Laketown's hottie Bard (Luke Evans) saves the day for the town, while Thorin broods and broods, becoming slowly, slowly (remember The Hobbit takes its time) overcome with kingly madness driven by greed.
Meanwhile, we catch up with a handful of subplots involving our favorite characters. It is not really worth it to go into great detail about the where and when of all the side stories, except suffice it to say there is a great scene involving Cate Blanchett going all badass-elf-queen when Gandalf gets himself into a pickle, and you actually, ACTUALLY start to tell some of the peripheral Dwarves apart. For the first time in this pre-Lord of the Rings series, there is actually some consequence to the action and violence, as some characters are lost, just when we seem to be getting to know them.
We all know that The Hobbit ends long before Lord of the Rings begins, so we know that the plot will come full circle, somehow, some way. We know (from the title) that there will be an epic battle, even if we find ourselves secretly counting on our fingers to make sure that there are indeed five armies involved. And we are quick to forgive the fact that the Hobbit himself, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), seems almost a supporting character when we see scene-stealing Billy Connolly as a Dwarf showing up, leading an army on his War Pig.
During this final act, I was surprised to find that I was finally being sucked back into the grandeur of the bigger picture of Peter Jackson's epic interpretation of Tolkein's source material, a feeling which I felt was completely missing from the bloated Part 1 and 2 of the series. My surprise enjoyment may have not made me want to watch the first and second film again, but it made me want to launch back into the Lord of the Rings series to see the story unfold, again. As it ends, so it begins.
If you didn't feel The Hobbit trilogy wasn't overly long already, you can now finally complete your extended LOTR library with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Extended Edition on Blu-ray. Maybe to spare us unnecessary pain, the film is only 20 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, and really offers not much new other than some unnecessary extra battle gore (making the Extended cut of the movie Rated R) and character moments. But if you love all the extras that Jackson loves to bestow on fans, this is the version you will want, as there are more than 9 hours of special features, including the requisite feature commentary by Peter Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens. For the most part, the massive amount of extras, which cover pretty much every aspect of production you can imagine, are grouped onto two discs as "The Appendices Part 11: The Gathering Storm" and "The Appendices Part 12: Here at Journey's End". You'll find all sorts of stuff in here, from Jackon painstakingly planning the culminating battle of the five armies, to the cast bonding on set, to filmmaking being interrupted by crappy weather, first and wardrove malfunctions, to hitting and missing deadlines, to finally wrapping up the whole epic Middle Earth series after an astonishingly impressive 15 (!!!) years. Oh, and to help plan your trip to New Zealand, "Home of Middle-earth Part 3" gives a final overview of filming locations.