After years of waiting, the ride through Middle Earth seems to be at a close with the release of the final film in the “Hobbit” trilogy, “The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies,” a darker, more violent picture than the previous two films.

Continuing a trend established throughout Jackson’s Middle Earth films — the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” trilogies — “Battle of the Five Armies” shines brightest in its grandiose battle sequences, featuring towering monsters waging medieval war on men, dwarves and woodland elves.

Just like its Oscar-winning predecessor before it (the Rings trilogy’s “The Return of the King”), the final film in the “Hobbit” trilogy is leaps and bounds the best, visually stunning and impactful from the opening moments all the way through the titular battle of the five armies.

What sets “The Hobbit” apart from other, lesser science fiction and fantasy genre films is the heart brought to the series by British actor Martin Freeman as the titular hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

Freeman brings a genuine lightness to the screen which counterbalances so effectively with his rougher, tougher costars to make Jackson’s film cohesive.

Ian McKellen leads a wonderful and large supporting cast, including Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Cate Blanchett and a standout performance by Richard Armitage as blinded, conflicted dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield.

The film suffers, however, in its overly long ending after the extended battle sequences. At more than two hours in length, the third “Hobbit” stalls out when the emphasis is on dialogue and not in beautifully constructed CGI scenes.

Of the action sequences, only the rescue of Gandalf early in the film feels out of place, like a high quality video game boss battle rather than a cohesive action sequence.

Fans of the prior two “Hobbit” films as well as the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy should be extremely pleased with Jackson’s final foray into Middle Earth, a fitting end to a wonderfully dynamic series of cinema.

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