- Special Features
Blogs & Columns
- Fun & Games
Picking up right where last year's The Unexpected Journey left off, Peter Jackson's second chapter in his Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, feels more like the return to Middle Earth we were all expecting the first time around. This year's entry in the Hobbit story is far more entertaining, moves at a much better pace than its predecessor, features more enthralling action sequences, and if it was ever at all possible to upstage Gollum in a feature film, the portrayal of Smaug comes very close.
As the middle movie in the new trilogy, this entry didn't have to spend the first hour or so introducing all the new characters, which is an aspect of the first film that bogged it down a bit. Instead, the viewers were immediately thrust back into the quest to regain Erebor from the clutches of Smaug. While there were new characters to introduce, it didn't take nearly as long for them to have an impact on the story this time around. New to the Hobbit films that aid the dwarves and Bilbo on their quest are Beorn, a skin changer who helps the company escape from the Orcs that were hunting them throughout the first film, Thranduil (Lee Pace), the Elven king in the Mirkwood, Tauriel (Lost's Evangeline Lilly), a warrior elf who takes a liking to Kili, and returning to Middle Earth for this film is Orlando Bloom as Legolas. Despite not being in the book at all, the addition of Legolas and the creation of Tauriel really helped add to the scenes in the Mirkwood and in the Elven kingdom. Once the company reaches Laketown, we get our first glimpse of Men in either of the Hobbit films. Luke Evans plays Bard, a merchant who ends up playing a pivotal role in the conclusion of the trilogy. Almost unrecognizable as the Master of Laketown is Stephen Fry, a character who adds some of the humor to the film from the sheer ridiculousness of the character.
Another vast improvement over the first film is the action sequences. There is plenty of action in this one, almost from start to finish, and that's certainly not a bad thing. Whether it be Bilbo fighting off giant spiders, Legolas and Tauriel taking out countless Orcs in spectacular fashion while the dwarves and Bilbo float down a river, or the chase through Erebor at the conclusion of the film, this movie felt a lot more like an entry in The Lord of the Rings than An Unexpected Journey did.
Speaking of the chase through Erebor, just before that occurred, we finally got our introduction to Smaug. Motion capped and voiced wonderfully by Benedict Cumberbatch, the scenes with Smaug and Bilbo are easily among the best of any of our visits to Middle Earth. Much like Andy Serkis seems to be perfect as Gollum, Cumberbatch has the perfect voice to be a menacing dragon, and has the acting chops to pull off amazing lines he trades with Martin Freeman's Bilbo (the two also share screen time on BBC's Sherlock, which is worth a look if you're a fan of either actor, or especially if you're a fan of both).
While Thorin (Richard Armitage), Bilbo and the rest of the company head toward the Lonely Mountain, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) investigates Dol Godur, the fortress where Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) had encountered the Necromancer in the previous film. Without spoiling too much, while it may not be a huge surprise for fans of Lord of the Rings, what Gandalf discovers in the ruins is sure to leave a lot of fans happy, especially the way it's portrayed on screen.
The only gripe I'd have to pick with The Desolation of Smaug would be the ending. Not that I didn't like the ending, I thought the end of the movie was terrific. But, knowing that it's the second movie of a trilogy based on a solo novel, I knew Peter Jackson would have to cut it off at some point. As the screen went black and the credits started, I immediately wanted more, which isn't something I can necessarily say about An Unexpected Journey.
With that said, this entry into the Hobbit saga vastly improved on everything the first movie faltered on. Better action, better pacing, a more Lord of the Rings-y feel, December 2014 can't come soon enough so we can see how this tale finishes up.