The second part of “The Hobbit” trilogy is aptly titled, “The Desolation of Smaug” and follows Bilbo Baggins and the dwarves over another leg of the journey, surpassing the previous film in terms of pacing and story elements. I can start off by stating that I did enjoy this movie (more so than I did the first), but my problem with the existence of it as one of three still stands. If I enjoyed it, that might seem a needless complaint, but it still relevant because despite the thrills and excitement over the action, there’s too many instances that feel longer than they need to be, or even needlessly included. That was true for the first film, it’s true here as well, and it’ll likely be true for the third.
We begin with the heroes on the run from the orcs as they reach the Mirkwood forest, which seems “ill” and full of spiders. Knowing this, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) leaves to go do wizard stuff, and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and company get into all sorts of trouble with spiders, elves, and of course, a dragon. What’s noticeable almost immediately is the heightened pace and urgency to the quest, with the action being quicker and more to the point. The action set pieces from the spiders to the elves and their arrival in Lake-town is seamless and exciting, and it seems that director Peter Jackson has recaptured his old form that made “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy so enjoyable.
The story is packed with memorable moments and humor as it moves right along to the finale. Each set piece is creative and exciting, with the one of the early highlights being the river escape with all the dwarves riding the rapids in empty wine barrels. It’s bright and colorful with ludicrous and thrilling action. There are also some fun character bits, making some of the dwarves stand out more than they previously did.
We also get some new characters this time with the Elf King Thranduil (a really interesting performance by Lee Pace), Bard the bowman and smuggler (Luke Evans), and the new edition to the story, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). While the presence of a female character and an unexpected love interest is certainly a fun and welcome addition to the story, Evangeline Lilly’s acting is nothing special. She doesn’t stand out as much as she should, nor does she have as much impact visually with her performance as Lee Pace or even Luke Evans. Martin Freeman is as perfectly cast as he was before, but he’s given less to say this time around despite his having more to do, and Ian McKellen’s role as Gandalf is greatly diminished with his screen time reduced to only an unfinished subplot.
The major highlight of the movie is Smaug, as it probably should be. As a visual effect, he’s a stunning dragon; probably the best looking one to date in cinema (not sure how much of a compliment that is). What really makes him stand above simply being a spectacular effect however, is the charisma of Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice. He truly makes this dragon feel alive and like a true character, adding far more personality to it that you’d expect. Every line comes across like thunder from his jaws. His dialogue with Bilbo is fantastic and extremely memorable.
That said, there’s still the trouble with this story being divided into the middle movie. It suffers the most from that by having its natural conclusion stripped away, leaving you with an unsatisfying (but sadly expected) cliffhanger ending. It’s so abrupt, it feels as though the climax (which went on considerably longer than it should have anyway) was cut short, ending before it was meant to. And if you read the book, then you know it does.
Even so, “The Desolation of Smaug” is a return to the fantasy excitement and thrills of the “The Lord of the Rings”, capturing the mood and pace better than before. I hate that this is only the second part of a relatively short story, but if the next one is as good as this, then I suppose I can live with it.