Considering how slim the actual book was, Peter Jackson sure has taken his sweet-ass time getting to the end of The Hobbit. It’s starting to feel like we’re witnessing the events of Middle-earth unfold in real time. Still, it’s a testament to his skill as a big-canvas storyteller that we keep coming back, hungry for more. He’s managed to orchestrate the three-part saga like the world’s canniest D&D-dungeon master. When we last left off, our pint-size heroes had just unleashed the Cumberbatchian wrath of the dragon Smaug. Seventy-seven-year-old spoiler alert: The fire-breathing beastie is offed by Bard (Luke Evans), which allows the dwarves to return to the mountain keep of Erebor. There, untold piles of gold and priceless baubles are tucked away, the promise of which soon turns the dwarf ringleader Thorin (Richard Armitage) into a blindly greedy monster not unlike Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Everybody wants a cut of the spoils—the elves, the orcs, a pig-riding Billy Connolly. And they all descend on Erebor armed to the teeth and itching for a battle royal.
Like everything else in Jackson’s Tolkienland, the buildup to the climactic melee stretches on too long. But when it comes, it’s a doozy. Maybe not on the same epic scale as The Two Towers‘ Battle of Helm’s Deep, but a doozy nonetheless. It packs a giddy blast of childlike wonder and chin-in-your-lap awe. While more than enough praise has been poured on Jackson and his singular gift for CG spectacle, Martin Freeman deserves some credit for lending humor and humanity to what could have been a numbing orgy of pixelated mayhem. His furry-footed Bilbo has been the trilogy’s secret weapon, the beating heart behind the blockbuster. And as Bilbo finally settles in at the Shire with a good book and a whopper of a tale to tell, he can rest easy knowing that he will be missed. B