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‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’: Mayhem on a colossal scale

BY BRUCE INGRAM | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

It seems like years (wait, it really has been years) since Bilbo and his dwarf companions set out at a very slow and talky pace on their “Lord of the Rings” prequel adventure.

I’m thinking in particular of that epic dinner party at Bilbo’s house in “An Unexpected Journey.” So much eating! So much singing! So much wishing it would be over, already!

Fortunately, the “Hobbit” trilogy picked up considerable steam in its second installment last year. And now, in the climactic “Battle of the Five Armies,” the walking and talking is officially over. As the title suggests, the business at hand is a mind-boggling Middle-earth mayhem fest that starts on a colossal scale and just keeps getting colossal-er — taking up almost half the running time.

If you’ll recall, “The Hobbit” is a record of the many dangers faced by home-and-hearth-loving hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he journeys with the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and a band of refugee dwarves to reclaim their birthright, a treasure-filled mountain stolen by the evil dragon Smaug. They attain that goal early in “Battle of the Five Armies,” but Bilbo’s troubles are far from over.

Related: Martin Freeman, Orlando Bloom reflect on trilogy’s ending

Maddened by greed, the dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage, a dramatic standout in all three films) refuses to honor agreements to share his treasure with his elvish and human allies. Who then decides to fight for what’s owed them.

And fighting — presented with Jackson’s usual double helpings of visual splendor, emotional oomph and low-key comedy — is what “Battle of the Five Armies” is all about.

First, Jackson puts paid to Smaug with a desperate showdown that leaves the village of Lake Town a smoldering ruin. Then he conjures a magical melee pitting evil ghost warriors against the good-sorcery dream team of Gandalf, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman (horror icon Christopher Lee, kicking magic booty like no other 92-year-old on record). And then it’s back to the Lonely Mountain for the climactic clash between dwarves, elves and men — and hordes of bloodthirsty (and aggressively ugly) orcs, sent by the dark Lord Sauron to kill them all.

If you’re thinking that adds up to four armies instead of five, you may be right, though it’s hard to tell since Jackson throws so many other combatants into the fray including goblins, trolls, giant eagles and even more gigantic “wereworms.” Less is more has never been Peter Jackson’s watchword.

[s3r star=3.5/4]

Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Peter Jackson and written by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. Running time: 144 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images). Opens Wednesday at local theaters.