The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug. All the while Bilbo Baggins is in possession of a mysterious and magical ring.
Any Middle-Earth movie is a thing of grandeur and spectacle. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is no exception. Full to the brim with epic action sequences, sweeping vistas, and huge stakes, it is an unstoppable thrill ride from beginning to end. The intimidating running time of 161 minutes flies by, perhaps more quickly than any other Middle-Earth entry. However, The Desolation of Smaug does fall foul of a number of flaws common with its counterparts. It is fatuous and sometimes messy. Happily these flaws cannot halt the beast, which has to go down as yet another classic adventure.
Unlike its predecessor The Desolation of Smaug sets off at a rip-roaring pace and never lets up. The action is the films biggest strength and it isn’t ashamed to flaunt it, neither should it be. Perhaps the film’s strongest set-piece is the dwarves’ escape down a river in barrels. It is an extended sequence, and may feel over-cooked to some. But Jackson effectively varies the action as it switches between the perspective of the dwarves, elves, and orcs involved. It is unashamedly cartoonish, an effect only exacerbated by the rampant CGI. This is far from a bad thing however, the scene is so enjoyable it is hard to keep a smile from off your face.
Ultimately though, every film must have a sustainable plot to support the action, especially when it has such a long running time. This is where things become tricky for The Desolation of Smaug. The overreaching plot has enough in terms of stakes to keep interest and string together the action. However, there are so many sub-plots here that things often get muddled and the film sometimes slows down in trying explain where each character is and when. The most obvious example of this is the romance between Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aidan Turner). While it isn’t as straightforward or predictable as it might of been, we as an audience aren’t given much to make us route for the two. There is hope yet that such side plots may develop in the sagas final chapter, but here they are a mere distraction.
One of the main criticisms of the first Hobbit movie was that it lacked any kind of development for the dwarf characters outside of Thorin and Balin. Desolation of Smaug does make a concerted attempt to remedy the situation, giving a couple of them some more screen time. It is still true though that some of the dwarves are indistinguishable from the crowd, especially in the heat of battle. It is hard to see how the situation could have been fixed. Giving each dwarf his own character would have resulted in even longer films (something we can all agree we don’t need), the only other possible solution would have been to remove some of the dwarves out of the tale altogether, which would have no doubt annoyed fans of the text. In truth it is not the worst problem that the film could have, and is mere nit picking.
The rest of the cast is certainly enough to sustain the story. Richard Armitage does a good job of portraying the duality of Thorin. Both a great leader of the party, and as the dogmatic and aggressive dwarf he is. For the first half he is the true protagonist of the film, which can be quiet confusing considering the film is called The Hobbit. Indeed for a stint in the middle of the film Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is hardly seen at all. It is disappointing because Martin Freeman’s performance is brilliant and riveting to watch. He may not have much range as an actor, but what he does, he does expertly. As such the scenes that revolve around him are often the film’s best, which brings me to the best of them all. The showdown with Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).
Since The Hobbit trilogy was announced many I’m sure have been waiting for the reveal of Smaug. He certainly has been built up in both the promotion for the films and in the films themselves. Often when there is such high expectations it is hard to meet them, but here they are clearly surpassed. Smaug is amazing to behold. He is exactly what a dragon should be, huge in scale, and truly intimidating. The CGI, unlike earlier in the film, is completely seamless here. As for Benedict’s Cumberbatch’s performance, it is pitch perfect, so much so that he is barely recognisable. The battle of wits between him and Bilbo is enthralling, and much more engaging than any of the action scenes. It is disappointing then when the film feels the need to fall back to the same hijinks we’ve seen earlier. It is not unexciting but it’s just a shame the film didn’t take the opportunity to add variety to proceedings.
The films finale is something of an anticlimax. The best trilogies are made up of films with their own distinct story lines that tie in to the greater story. As such each film must have its own trajectory and conclusion. In this sense The Desolation of Smaug is found wanting. The ending doesn’t so much conclude but simply tease for the next entry. To many the end may seem a little perfunctory. I t would have been nice to have seen the personal results of the journey the characters have taken, particularly in the case of Thorin.
For all of its flaws The Desolation of Smaug is a hugely enjoyable experience, and this after all is the purpose. Those looking for another Lord of the Rings may be disappointed. The Hobbit is much more of a light-hearted tale. The trilogy’s biggest test will come in how it handles its final act. Something that may well decide whether it goes down as an accomplished trilogy or a disappointing follow-up. But as of these first two entries, the saga is doing enough to hold its own.