Everything a Middle Earth fan could hope for and more.
While some, including myself, might have been slightly underwhelmed by the first offering, let me just start by saying this movie is awesome. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has everything a Middle Earth fan could hope for; expertly choreographed action sequences, more breath-taking set pieces, more characters complete with more character development and of course Smaug.
Thankfully Peter Jackson has reeled back on the forced LOTR references so annoying in An Unexpected Journey and allows The Desolation of Smaug to become it’s own magical, fantasy-filled beast. Picking up where the first instalment finished The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug finds Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Thorin and the rest of the Dwarves (who I still have trouble telling apart let alone naming) still travelling east intent on reaching the Lonely Mountain before the ‘last light of Durin’s Day’ and re-installing Thorin Oakenshield as the rightful King Under the Mountain. Along they way they meet an assortment of beings of assorted shapes and sizes, most notably the giant spiders of Mirkwood and the less than welcoming wood elves, including Elvin archer Legolas (who is moodier and much more of a badass). Luckily Bilbo has his magic ring and is able to break the dwarves out and escape in empty wine barrels right under the noses of the rather lack lustre and drunk Elvin guards (who knew elves like to get on the sauce?). What follows is a spectacular, over-the-top barrel ride down a fast flowing river where the company are pursued not only by elves but orcs who have found them again. The absurdity of some of the stunts will have you laughing with the film, rather than at it (indeed some even clapped in the viewing I attended). Bilbo and the dwarves escape but not without injury and make it to human Lake Town and more importantly one step closer to the Lonely Mountain. The movie spends more time in Lake Town than the book did but this does allow for an excellent cameo by Stephen Fry as master of Lake Town. Then it is on to the Lonely Mountain and finally the reveal of Smaug.
With almost a two movie build to this reveal there was a danger of it being a colossal disappointment but Jackson handled the gem-encrusted Smaug and his golden lair with expert hands. The images on screen are genius and straight out of the most vivid imaginations. Smaug (voiced with seductive evil by Benedict Cumberbatch) and Bilbo’s exchange of dialogue is one of the best scenes of the movie. Indeed the movie is at it’s best when the extensive scenery and action are dialled down to let the diminutive hero of the story shine. Freeman seems to get the duality of hobbits better than any who’ve donned the big feet and ears so far. His nervous reticence combined with constant look of bewilderment serve well to contrast the great acts of bravery hobbits are capable of making. As Tolkien suggests, it is not your size but the size of your heart that defines you.
This second instalment in The Hobbit trilogy is fantastic eye candy and a thoroughly enjoyable adventure. However, it does still have its issues; at 161 minutes long this film is not for the weak of bladder and some points feel slightly dragged out, especially when the film diverges from the events of the book. Having said that, Evangeline Lilly’s original Elvin character Tauriel really is an inspired addition. As pretty much the only female in the movie Tauriel dominates over her male counterparts not only in combat but compassion and sincerity. And the hint of interspecies romance is a nice touch.
Knowing where this film ends, I have to wonder what Jackson and his team will come up with to fill another three hours in There And Back Again. But regardless of my reservations, I will be waiting with eager anticipation for the conclusion to the series, just as I will be waiting eagerly in line to see The Desolation of Smaugonce again.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo Del Toro
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom
Released by: Warner Bros.