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With so many thrills, final film of ‘Hobbit’ trilogy is a battle royal: 3 stars

Bilbo (Martin Freeman): Hobbit, master thief, resourceful peacekeeper
Bilbo (Martin Freeman): Hobbit, master thief, resourceful peacekeeper Warner Bros.

It’s right there in the title, “The Battle of the Five Armies.” Peter Jackson’s final entry in his stretched-out “Hobbit” trilogy is packed with action, starting with Smaug the dragon’s attack on Laketown and culminating in the massive title confrontation.

There may or may not be five armies involved (you lose count after a while), but it seems as if most of Middle-earth is on the battlefield at some point.

That leaves less room for smaller character moments, especially since this film is the shortest of all of Jackson’s J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations. Presumably, such scenes will be included in the special edition DVD release. In this version, there’s barely time to breathe. You’ll be having too much fun to care.

Once the business with the dragon is settled, Bilbo the Hobbit (Martin Freeman) finds himself caught in the middle when dwarf leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) becomes dangerously obsessed with the treasure he’s inherited. He’s even a bit Gollum-like at times. The parallels between Bilbo’s magical ring and the hoard under the mountain of Erebor — especially the priceless Arkenstone — are effective, if not subtle.

As thousands of men, elves, dwarves and Orcs amass at the gate, each demanding a share of the loot, Bilbo must take drastic steps to avert disaster.

Meanwhile, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is still imprisoned at the Necromancer’s fortress, awaiting the arrival of his White Council cavalry. This sequence is one that Tolkien only alludes to in his writing, and it’s exciting to see it brought to life with cameos from Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving (as elf leaders Galadriel and Elrond) and Sylvester McCoy and Christopher Lee (as wizards Radagast and Saruman).

The scene is one of several that help bridge “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” which takes place decades later. It’s something Jackson does with considerable skill (and an occasional wink at the audience).

Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro have plenty more to add, including an expansion of Luke Evans’ role as Bard the Bowman. His heroism would have been more appropriate at the end of the second installment, “The Desolation of Smaug,” and it seems like an afterthought here instead of the kickoff to the big event. At least he has a major role to play in that event, leading the ragtag survivors of Laketown into the fray.

There is also — finally! — a resolution to the love triangle between Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), who are elves, and Kili the dwarf (Aidan Turner). It’s still a pointless distraction that makes them all look like teenagers, but it doesn’t bring the movie to a screeching halt the way it did in “Desolation of Smaug.”

Legolas also gets some emotional backstory with his father, Thranduil (Lee Pace), that comes out of (and goes) nowhere. More content for the DVD?

In the 13 years since “The Fellowship of the Ring” was released, Middle-earth has become as much Jackson’s world as Tolkien’s. For purists, that may be a problem. There are story changes, new characters and added subplots all over the series, some of which work better than others.

But a love for Tolkien’s world informs everything, from the massive scope of an Orc stronghold to the delicate threads on an elven cloak. It’s impossible not to see that, even in the blur of battle.

‘THE HOBBIT 3’

Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images

Time: 2:30

Opening: The movie officially opens Wednesday, but you can watch it Monday as part of a “Hobbit” trilogy at most area theaters.

3-D OR NOT 3-D?

Like the previous installments, “The Battle of the Five Armies” looks fantastic and has some clever 3-D gags. It’s not really essential, though.

GEOGRAPHY LESSON

Director Peter Jackson expanded J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” from one book to three films with the help of appendices in “The Lord of the Rings.” Some notable additions:

▪ Some of the Orcs who join the battle are from Mount Gundabad to the north, which viewers get to see. This was the legendary birthplace of the first dwarf, Durin, and sacred to his descendants. It was captured by Orcs several times, including during the period of “The Hobbit.”

▪ Another dwarf clan, led by Dain Ironfoot, joins the battle from the Iron Hills, northeast of Erebor.

▪ Dol Guldur, far to the southwest, was where the sorcerer Sauron, known then as the Necromancer, was amassing his strength (and part of his army) while searching for the One Ring, and where Gandalf is imprisoned at the beginning of the movie. After his banishment by the White Council, Sauron fled to Mordor to the south, where he prepared for his resurgence in “The Lord of the Rings.”

| Loey Lockerby

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