Westport News film critic Susan Granger reviews the new movie, "The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies:"

Oscar-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson returns to Middle Earth for the last time with this fast-paced, concluding chapter of his ponderous cinematic adaptation of "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien.

It's absolutely essential that you see the two previous installments, since this fantasy picks up where the last one ended -- with the fire-breathing dragon Smaug decimates Lake-town residents after the Dwarves of Erebor reclaimed their birthright and gold.

Meanwhile, their ancient enemy Dark Lord Sauron has returned, ordering Azog and his legions of malevolent Orcs to attack. As the conflict escalates, the Dwarves, Elves and Men must decide whether to unite or be destroyed.

Scripted by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Jackson, working from earlier drafts by Guillermo del Toro, it's combat-driven, as massive political factions prepare to fight one another during the ultimate battle at the Lonely Mountain stronghold. Since there's little or no character development, except for power-crazed Dwarf King Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), it lacks emotional depth.

There is an ill-fated love triangle involving Wood-Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), Dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) and soldier Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who has a tortured relationship with his father, Elf King Thranduil (Lee Pace). Genial Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) plays peacemaker, protecting the Arkenstone.

Ian McKellen returns as the pipe-smoking wizard Gandalf the Grey, while Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee reprise their "Lord of the Rings" characters. The cast also includes Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Billy Connolly, Ryan Gage, Stephen Fry and Ian Holm.

Jackson's use of 3D and a higher frame rate (48-per-second) creates a sharp, smooth flow between the live action and the highly detailed, computer-generated imagery from New Zealand's Weta Workshop.

After a drawn-out Dwarf vs. Orc duel atop a frozen waterfall, Jackson weaves all the threads together in the bucolic Shire, positioning it a preface to his previous "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies" is a visually spectacular 6, a satisfying finale.

- For more about movies and theater, check the website: www.susangranger.com.