This is the way "The Hobbit" ends: not with a whimper, but with an epic battle royale. True to its subtitle, "The Battle of the Five Armies" (revised from the initially more pacific "There and Back Again"), the final installment of Peter Jackson's distended "Lord of the Rings" prequel offers more barbarians at the gate than you can shake an Elven sword at, each vying for control of mountainous Erebor. The result is at once the trilogy's most engrossing episode, its most expeditious (at a comparatively lean 144 minutes) and also its darkest -- both visually and in terms of the forces that stir in the hearts of men, dwarves and orcs alike. Only fans need apply, but judging from past precedent, there are more than enough of them to ensure that "Battle" walks off with the dragon's share of the upcoming holiday-season box office.
"Third time pays for all," the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is fond of saying in Tolkien's novel, and much the same might be said of the "Hobbit" films themselves. After getting things off to a sluggish start with 2012's "An Unexpected Journey" (complete with an interminable dinner-party se...
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