Peter Jackson's Hobbit series has not been wildly impressive so far, with this second entry being only marginally more entertaining than the first. I've never been a Lord of the Rings fanatic, but the original trilogy was an thrilling cinematic achievement, with each film moving at a quick pace and clearly headed for a distinct endgame, something that this series so far lacks.
A major reason for this is obvious, as Peter Jackson and his team had to really stretch this one novel, The Hobbit, into three nearly three hour films, while the LoTR trilogy was clearly delineated, with each film based a single book, and the screenwriters forced to cut the fat from each one. This task currently underway requires a lot of padding, and in this case, stretching scenes and sequences way beyond their welcome, to the point where even in this film, which has action scenes that are more entertaining and exciting than the first, into an endless, dragged out series of climaxes that start off interesting and end up tiresome. It often feel like a slog to get through.
This time around we pick up from the last film with the gang moving on, only to be attacked by giant spiders (hasn't this happened before in a LoTR movie?) in the first action sequence that goes on too long, but reintroduces us to Legolas, this time an older and slightly fatter Orlando Bloom reprising his role from the original trilogy. It's nice to see him again, even though he doesn't get a lot to do, and with him comes the very welcome introduction of gasp, a female character! She's the elf Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly in a fairly wooden performance (Lilly's limited range has not expanded since Lost) but even the presence of a woman in this universe is so rare that it brings something of a refreshing change in atmosphere, which Jackson must have known, because he really had to reach to even get her in there (her character isn't in the book at all). There's a hint of a romance between Tauriel and the dwarf Killi, but it's very minor and only slightly developed, which makes one wonder if it's necessary at all.
Martin Freeman's Bilbo remains the best part of these Hobbit movies, but unfortunately he's sidelined for much of the film in service to the freewheeling action. It's really a shame because he's got great comedic timing that's only occasionally deployed for effect, and you can see in the rare scene where he does put it to use that he could be of greater service to the character if he was only allowed the room to breathe. The journey continues into the mountains where the group meets up with Smaug, the dragon guarding the treasure he's stolen from the people of Lake-town, and voiced by the sinister sounding Benedict Cumberbatch. Bilbo's face to face encounter with Smaug is awe-inspiring and the fire-breathing dragon is a breathtaking effect, but like the rest of the scenes in this film, the verbal encounter soon turns into a physical battle between the dwarves, Bilbo, and Smaug- and just as quickly descends into incoherent chaos that goes on for at least twenty minutes and leads to an extremely abrupt and disappointing ending.
You get the sense that if the movies were structured a little better in pacing and action, or most of all, if this whole enterprise had been one epic three hour film, the adventure would have worked more smoothly, transitioning from one event to the next and forced to keep moving, rather than spending so much time dragging scenes out. But as it is, the movie still feels sloppy, overlong, and worst of all, exhausting by the time the end credits finally roll. As I said before, it is marginally better than An Undiscovered Journey, but that hardly makes it worth the price of admission.