The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was greeted with the collective “meh” that many opening films in a series are usually given.
But series are made or broken by that ever-important middle film. Think The Empire Strikes Back and more recently The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
Now it’s The Hobbit: The Desolation Smaug looking to duplicate that success and it does so fabulously, making it one of the year’s best films.
It takes the audience on the rollicking continuation of the adventure to free the dwarf kingdom from the grips of the evil dragon named Smaug (voice by Benedict Cumberbatch). It’s that simple - or maybe not.
For those who don’t remember, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his band of brothers led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) had escaped danger to continue their journey. In the process, Bilbo now has possession of the one ring that figures so prominently in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
The dangers prove far more immense in Smaug as the dwarves come up against their natural enemy, elves, including Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), who are intent on stopping their journey.
But as much as this edition of The Hobbit is an epic, sumptuous action adventure, it serves as the perfect precursor to the LOTR, as director Peter Jackson continues to set things up so very well. Considering anyone who’s digested J.R.R. Tolkien knows the eventual outcome, Jackson has to bring something else to the table and in this case it’s nuance.
And that comes with the subtle way in which he explores the desperation of the dwarves to reclaim their home and theme of temptation that flows throughout the entire film.
It comes from Thorin who’s confronted with the greed that comes with the seemingly endless riches that his father acquired prior to his downfall. He faces the unenviable task of just what or who he’s willing to sacrifice against Smaug to reacquire the riches.
Then there is the case of Bilbo who snatched the One Ring from Gollum in The Hobbit. He’s begins to discover what power the piece of jewelry holds and the subtle changes begin as he uses it when convenient.
It’s a smartly underplayed effort by Jackson to handle it in that manner; instead he allows the key element of this part of the story take center stage – the action.
In that respect this installment provides abundantly some of the zip and swagger that the first film lacked. It’s gorgeous to watch, but more importantly, it flows easily with a script he wrote with Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro possessing charm, wit and humor.
More importantly, however, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug accomplishes the most important feat – it leaves you wanting more.
Movie: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom
Studio: Warner Bros.
Rated: PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.
Running time: 169 minutes
George’s rating: 4.5-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com