The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Posted: December 22, 2013 in Movie Review
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The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Director: Peter Jackson

Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom

Popular is the perception that the second chapter of a trilogy suffers from Middle Child Syndrome. The first film provides introductions, the third bringing closure, while Movie #2 is left with the task of raising the stakes and placing the heroes in a bleak, seemingly inescapable situation. For this reason, more pressure is placed on the second film to deliver than either of the other two. When it fails, the results are cataclysmic and it threatens to render the third film unwatchable. When it succeeds, as the second entry in the “Hobbit” trilogy does, the rewards are as large as the enormous pile of gold that Smaug the Dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch) sleeps on.

Continuing in their quest to retake the Lonely Mountain from Smaug, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the company of Dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) encounter Goblins, woodland Elves and Men from Laketown. While among the Elves, a bond is formed between Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), the female warrior Elf, and Kili the Dwarf, despite the inability of their two races to get along. This creates a love triangle, with Legolas also vying for Tauriel’s affection. Upon reaching the Lonely Mountain, it falls to Bilbo to find a way to sneak in and grab the Arkenstone, the most precious of all jewels in the former Dwarf kingdom, without stirring the dragon out of his slumber. Unfortunately, that second part proves impossible and, once Smaug is awake, a whole new can of worms has been opened. During this time, Bilbo and the Dwarves are without the services of Gandalf (Ian McKellen). The Grey Wizard has gone off on his own to investigate a dark shroud that has begun covering Middle Earth, and it has something to do with a being known as the Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Having come away slightly disappointed in “An Unexpected Journey,” I came in expecting more from “The Desolation of Smaug.” One of the earlier film’s biggest flaws was the pacing. There was, I think, too much time wasted on moving from place to place without anything truly significant or memorable happening. “The Desolation of Smaug” may not be perfect, but a slow-moving plot is not a problem it shares with its predecessor. Much more action, and much more danger is involved this time. Highlights include an escape courtesy of a collection of empty wine barrels, as well as Bilbo and the Dwarves’ encounter with a family of giant spiders. The animation responsible for making Smaug a fully realized character is every bit as impressive as that which created Gollum. Already a fan of Evangeline Lilly because of the TV series “Lost,” I really enjoyed her as Tauriel, a character that was not a part of J.R.R. Tolkien’s original text.

When “The Hobbit” was changed from a two-part on-screen adventure to a trilogy, I was initially concerned. My fears seemed realized when “An Unexpected Journey” did not quite live up to my expectations. My doubts have been silenced by “The Desolation of Smaug,” a magnificent return to form that I’ve come to rely on from Peter Jackson and the rest of the team that brought us the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy a decade ago. As middle chapters go, “The Desolation of Smaug” is no “Empire Strikes Back,” but it does have the same effect: It leaves the good guys at their lowest point, seemingly out of options that won’t result in mass casualties. The ending is different from that of the first “Hobbit” film or any of the “Lord of the Rings” films. There is no swelling orchestra easing us into a gradual conclusion. It is more abrupt, like a door being slammed shut. We will have to wait 12 more months for that door to open again, but “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” could not have asked for a better set-up.

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