The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review

The second film in a trilogy can either be really good or really bad. They have to balance setting up characters from the first movie, while finding an ending that will leave audiences satisfied. Peter Jackson already has one trilogy under his belt, and now the second movie of the Hobbit trilogy is here, The Desolation of Smaug. Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lee Pace, Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans and Evangeline Lilly, this film picks up where the first one left off as Bilbo and the Dwarves continue their journey to the Lonely Mountain. Watch the trailer after the jump and then read my review.

The best part about this movie is how fun it is. The CGI is still questionable and there are lots of walking but more than once I had a big smile on my face while watching. And when you go to the movies, that should be what’s most important. This review will get a little nitpicky, but know that it is better than the first movie by a mile and that I recommend seeing it.

I’ve only read the book once but this film covers my favourite scenes, starting with Mirkwood and the Wood Elves and ending with the dragon Smaug. But Jackson has brought these scenes to life from just talking to massive action pieces. My favourite scene involves the dwarves escaping the Elves by riding in barrels down a river. In the book, they just float with no worries, but in the movie there is a big battle happening around them. By adding Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and a new character, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) as Elves who are trying to one-up each other with spectacular Orc kills, Jackson breathes new life into this scene. Adding spectacular action scenes like this and a couple others made the 161 minute runtime go by quickly.

The middle films in trilogies always struggle to find a way to end it while still leaving something to come in the final one. The ending to The Desolation of Smaug is both very exciting and an amazing cliffhanger. I won’t spoil it, but everyone should be very satisfied with the ending based on everything setup in this movie.

As the title suggests, for the first time the full might of the dragon Smaug is seen on screen and it is spectacular. Benedict Cumberbatch voices Smaug and sounds very menacing in the role. But again, Jackson has taken a small scene from the book when Martin Freeman’s Bilbo encounters the beast and made it into a massive climatic battle. There are a couple spots in the battle that don’t look to good in CGI, but the dragon himself was clearly the main focus of the animators because it is flawless. If only the same attention to detail was brought to the Orcs and Dwarves.

To make this movie really long though, Jackson also added some storylines that both don’t get a payoff and are sort of boring. The first is an odd love story between Tauriel (who Jackson created for the film) and the dwarf Kili. It is both oddly uncomfortable as well as degrading to Tauriel, who is really a bad-ass Elf who kills a ton of Orcs. The second involves the Orcs chasing the Dwarves, which leads to the cool fight by the river but some ugly CGI. I really couldn’t care less about the Orcs mission to hunt down the dwarves and I can’t imagine it leading to anything in the next movie.

And finally, one of the most underused characters in this movie is Gandalf (Ian McKellen). Almost from the beginning he announces his departure from the dwarves company and then goes on a quest looking for the Necromancer (Cumberbatch again). Almost nothing except Gandalf walking through crazy environments happens until he gets into a magic  battle with the Necromancer. But it is so short and changes nothing, I couldn’t understand what was going on. Since it surrounds Gandalf, I imagine this will be a big part of the third movie, but reviewing this movie on its own, these scenes are a real let down.

I am not a big fan of comparing movies in my reviews, but this one can’t not be fully described without being put up next to An Unexpected Journey. Simply put, this movie is miles better than its predecessor but is still not perfect. An Unexpected Journey has both boring action scenes and a terrible ending. This one improves greatly on both those fronts. So if the first movie scared you away from this trilogy, this second film is an improvement.

I am still not convinced the Hobbit book has enough material to make three films but the second movie is at least watchable. Ironically, most of the scenes I enjoyed saw a simple scene from the book get upgraded to an exciting action scene. If only Jackson could have used the same special effects he used in the original trilogy. The CGI is still mostly ugly and disappointing.

I will be seeing the final movie when it comes out next year. I’m still not sure what to expect, but the Desolation of Smaug gives me hope.

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