The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug arrives in theaters today as the middle chapter in a trilogy that only needed one chapter. If the criteria for judging this film is whether or not it was necessary to make a 300-page book into three feature films—presumably all lengthy—then the answer is a resounding no. But if the question is whether or not Desolation of Smaug is an entertaining ride worthy of a ticket at the theater, the answer is yes.
Although we’ve visited this world before, director Peter Jackson’s vision for these films is still powerfully impressive. He seems to understand the world surprisingly well and with good actors in a visually-astounding world, he tells a slow-paced but well-managed story here, making the most of the stretched-thin material.
This story begins with the wise wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) — in a flashback— meeting Thorin (Richard Armitage), the ancestrally-rich dwalf, for the first time. “Take back your homeland,” Gandalf advises and then we flash ahead to the adventure that began in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The dwarves, the oft-absent Gandalf and the shy hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) are on their way to face down Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), the manipulative dragon who sleeps atop the bountiful treasures that belonged to Thorin’s ancestors.
This adventure finds the company facing off against hungry spiders and a company of frustrated elves. The elves hold the group— save for Bilbo and Gandalf— hostage and the ensuing escape sequences are one of the film’s highlights. Orlando Bloom, reprising his Lord of the Rings character of Legolas, makes pleasant company here as he joins the show. His fierce takedown of the Orcs, ugly-looking creature who are trying to kill the dwarves, is particularly impressive. Evangeline Lilly also joins the cast as Tauriel, the she-elf who has eyes for one of the dwarves.
The whole story leads to a climax where Bilbo first meets Smaug and the two talk circles around one another. Gollum is missing in this adventure but the interplay between Bilbo and Smaug feels vaguely familiar. Whereas Gollum always seemed to serve as a secondary character, Smaug is easily set up as the main nemesis in the third chapter.
Although some fans might not like how the novel was divided into three parts, others will likely be pleased by the adventures strewn in this one. The action and excitement is elevated here making it more exciting than its predecessor (with less character development needed) but it does seem to drag at some long-winded parts, which would have easily been excised out if this whole adventure was compacted into one film.
In this film and its predecessor, the stakes aren’t as high as in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the plot isn’t as compelling but both issues seem inevitable with the decision to make this story into three films. As it stands, though, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is better than its predecessor but less powerful than the three films in the original trilogy. Still, the action is compelling and it’s a fun time at the theater.
It’s definitely worth a look from hobbits, dwarves and elves alike. Moviegoers too.
My review: B+