Thanks to my wife's good luck in a radio contest, I was able to see "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" about a week early, and, to be honest, I'm glad I didn't have to pay for it.

This film has been marketed over and over again as "the defining chapter of the Middle Earth" saga." Unfortunately, I can't think of a tagline that more egregiously misrepresents its film than this one. There is some small merit to the final chapter of "The Hobbit" trilogy, but it is miles and miles from being "the defining chapter of the Middle Earth saga." In fact, this is my least favorite of the "Hobbit" movies, all three of which are likewise miles below their distant "Lord of the Rings" cousins.

Not only is "Battle of the Five Armies" the least well-crafted of the six films set in Middle Earth, it is also the most blatantly inauthentic. This film absolutely reeks of merchandising opportunities and cheap thrills. From the beginning, the tone and direction of the "Hobbit" films have been far more juvenile and more pandering than "Lord of the Rings." Part of that is due to the difference in source material; however, far more of it comes from that dark place (the land of Mordor greed where the shadows filmmakers lie) where the film caters to what it thinks will sell tickets as opposed to what would best serve its story as a piece of art.

Furthermore, for a film titled "The Battle of the Five Armies," the battle itself is disappointingly mediocre. Gone is the spectacle and danger of The Battle for Helm's Deep in "The Two Towers," and gone are the intimate moments and attention to detail of the flight through Moria in "The Fellowship of the Ring." Instead, "The Battle of the Five Armies" chose to punctuate its climactic battle with jokes and stupidity. I kid you not, the level of seriousness and threat, not to mention storytelling, in "The Battle of the Five Armies" is easily outmatched by the latest expansion to "World of Warcraft" -- "Warlords of Draenor."

This final "Hobbit" film is far from defining anything, much less the Middle Earth saga. I'm all for finishing journeys that have been started, but my advice is to wait to finish the journey of Bilbo Baggins and Co. until the telling is available on Redbox or Netflix. My recommendation is to go out and buy "Guardians of the Galaxy" on DVD or Blu-Ray. "Guardians" is everything "Battle of the Five Armies" is not. "Guardians" is authentic, it's true to itself. "Guardians of the Galaxy" built it, and people came -- despite all odds. The age of Middle Earth is over, the age of Marvel is at the height of its power, and the age of "Star Wars" is a year away from being reborn.

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