Elves snore, it turns out. Their maidens make teensy-peen jokes and pine for the hottest of dwarves. And Bilbo Baggins now punches his sword right through the trachea of a goblin — and then looks rather proud of himself. Now more than ever, the Middle Earth films of Peter Jackson are less adaptations of the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien than they are the fullest realization of the fantasy-entertainment complex the Oxford don's pastorals have inspired. Here are the proper nouns and broad outlines of Tolkien's gentle stories, but play-acted with the thunderous swords-and-sorcery heroics of the pulps, the creature-building zeal of Ray Harryhausen and young George Lucas, the wouldn't-it-be-cool riffing of cosplay and fanfic, and a belief in self-improvement through joyous, comic violence. There's much to adore in Jackson's latest Christmas pudding, despite its garish extravagance, its moral cluelessness, its disorganized bulk, and its discomfiting belief that battle is a kind of weaponized freeze tag, where any touch of the good guy's axe or sword means the bad guy immediately collapses. It's as packed with highlights as its predecessor was stripped of them: better-than-usual orc raids, a horrific spider attack, much more dragon than you'd expect, an exuberant river escape that somehow turns into the old Super Nintendo game Donkey Kong Country, a too-quick visit with a were-bear. Not that the result is always transcendent; the only interior conflict is whether head dwarf Thorin (Richard Armitage) will share his gold pile once he gets his mitts on it, and every moment of balletic elf fighting -- and there's heaps -- feels invented to top the previous films, doing so more often in cartoonishness than in impact.
Peter JacksonMartin Freeman, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lee Pace, Richard ArmitageFran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson, J.R.R. TolkienCarolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson, Fran WalshWarner Bros.