When it was first announced that J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel “The Hobbit” would be adapted into three films, my first thought was that the second film would be the weakest of the three. It’s easy to drag both the beginning and the ending of a book out into their own individual films. The first would have the excitement of a new adventure plus a cast of characters to introduce and the last would have the epic conclusion that serves as an exclamation point to the series. However a middle chapter could be difficult because it may come across as merely a bridge between the first and last film. Thankfully, this was not the case with “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”.
Picking up where the first film left off, this second chapter follows Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and a band of dwarves led by heir-to-the-throne Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) as they journey to defeat a menacing dragon and reclaim their homeland.
In order to expand the original novel into three films, director Peter Jackson and his writers had to shoehorn some new material in to fill gaps in the story. This allowed the opportunity to bring back characters like Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who “Lord of the Rings” fans will be happy to see again.
One of the biggest complaints of the first film was that there wasn’t enough action to balance out the talking and walking. In roughly 2-3 scenes, Legolas gets the opportunity to slice, dice and behead as many orcs as he can get his hands on. One scene has Legolas and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) teaming up with the dwarves to take out what feels like a thousand bad guys as the latter tumbles down a river in barrels. Even Bilbo becomes a bit of an action hero this time around, at one point taking out 6-foot spiders in an enchanted forest.
Before you get too worried that this film is all blood and guts, there are plenty of long conversations as well. After reaching their destination, Bilbo has an exchange with Smaug the dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch) that is quite reminiscent of his game of riddles with Gollum (Andy Serkis) in the first film.
“The Desolation of Smaug” does a good job continuing to develop characters while, at the same time, introducing brand new ones like Bard (Luke Evans) and Tauriel. It’s still a little hard to distinguish between a couple of the dwarves in Bilbo’s party, but through the course of two films it feels like we’ve met them all one way or another.
The only thing I really didn’t care for in this film was how much it felt that the audience needed to be reminded of “The Lord of the Rings”. It’s hard to go ten minutes in this film without hearing about Sauron or the Ringwraiths, etc. Of course “The Hobbit” is a prequel of sorts to the other trilogy, but it almost comes across as the team behind this film doesn’t have enough confidence in the storyline at hand. As if the stakes in the current series aren’t high enough so we have to allude to this much darker villain that threatens the entire world.
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” benefits from great performances in Freeman, Armitage and Ian McKellen (who will always be Gandalf/Magneto to me) as well as great source material to pull from. You know it’s a good film because it doesn’t feel like you’ve been in the theater for 160 minutes and soon as the final shot goes dark, there is an instant echo of “Aww man!” in the audience. There may have been a few wavering fans after “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” but “The Desolation of Smaug” will win them back with another great outing in Middle Earth.
On a completely different note, I’m currently doing a YouTube series called See These Movies with a few friends where we review older movies. Right now we are going through some Christmas classics, the latest of which is “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”. Check it out.