Even for the past two installments of this film franchise, I have been wondering why the title is "The Hobbit", when the main story had really been more about Dwarves. In this film, the chief Dwarf Thorin Oakenshield and his internal conflict was the central plot around which the other stories revolved. Even the Elves Legolas and Tauriel had more scenes than our solitary hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. The only scenes Bilbo totally owned for himself were those in the last five minutes.
Within the first 10 minutes, Smaug, the dragon (with the booming voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) who attacked Laketown at the end of Part 2, was already down and out of the story. For the rest of the 134 minutes running time of this film, we will be watching battle after battle among various armies trying to gain control of the massive trove of gold that Smaug left behind in his old lair in Erebor.
Because Thorin was overcome with madness from "dragon sickness", he refused to peacefully negotiate with the Humans (led by the Bard) and the Elves (led by Thranduil). This eventually leads to war -- a five-way battle along with two groups of vicious evil Orcs (led by Azog) and finally, the Great Eagles (with Radagast and Beorn).
If you have seen the past two episodes, the level of acting of the cast is basically the same. Nothing so special, but nothing so bad. Richard Armitage does very well in the major role of Thorin. He imbues the character with dignity and honor, despite his initial turn to the dark side. Martin Freeman does his best with the limited screen time of Bilbo. Other actors who stood out were Aidan Turner as the lovestruck dwarf Kili, and Luke Evans as the Dragonslayer Bard.
Aside from seeing Ian McKellen (Gandalf) and Orlando Bloom (Legolas) again, it was also very good to see a lot of cameos from other members of the original LOTR cast, like Cate Blanchett (with an intense Galadriel vs. Sauron scene), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Christopher Lee (Saruman) and Ian Holm (Old Bilbo). On the negative side, there is Ryan Gage and his supremely annoying slimy character named Alfrid whom I'd rather not see or hear.
The expectations for a truly spectacular finale in this film was not really fully met because of some really disappointing visual effects in a lot of key scenes. There were scenes of Dwarves riding goats up a rocky mountain or Legolas hitching a ride on a bat in flight that really looked fake. The worst was the scene where Legolas was climbing up rocks as they were falling down from a crumbling tower/bridge. The CG was so bad in that one, it looked like Legolas was running up in thin air. Someone slacked off at post-production and the usually meticulous director Peter Jackson complacently allowed the subpar work to end up in the final print.
Speaking from the point of view of a non-LOTR fanatic, this whole Hobbit film franchise could have been just one big film or maybe two at the most. Even if it was interesting and engaging, the story felt too overstretched when director Peter Jackson decided to make it into a three film series. Despite taking three films to tell, the story still felt incomplete. At the end of the third film, there was no scene telling us the political aftermath of the battle, nor the fate of the gold, which was the main cause of the war in the first place.
I felt that the second film, "The Desolation of Smaug" was the best of the trilogy. It had the best part of the story, the best action sequences and the best special effects of the three. (My review of the first two films is posted HERE.) Anyhow, I liked the tying-in of certain details in this film to the first LOTR film. It makes me want to watch that first series all over again. 6/10.