REVIEW: “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

HOBBIT poster

Excitement, intrigue, skepticism, and division. These are just some of the words that describe the reactions to Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” trilogy. Was there enough material to stretch out into three films? Was there enough character depth? I’m certain you’re familiar with all of these debates and concerns. With the tablesetting done in the first film, the attention now turns to the second installment. In many ways this is the film that will tell whether the trilogy decision was a mistake. With the first movie set around introduction, does the second film have enough meat-and-potatoes to satisfy an audience especially considering Jackson’s format of near 3 hour movies.

The short answer to that question is an emphatic yes. “The Desolation of Smaug” is another huge sprawling Middle-Earth epic loaded with special effects and ambition. Better yet, it’s actually a nice step up for the trilogy. The film carries with it a true sense of adventure and I felt a much greater sense of urgency and peril than in the first film. These were big reasons why I really liked “The Desolation of Smaug”. While the first Hobbit picture was a fun and entertaining experience, I felt it lacked the big dynamic threat or plot driving exigency. That’s certainly not the case here.

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After a strange but brief opening flashback, the story picks up right where the last film left off. Gandolf, the hobbit Bilbo, Thorin Oakenshield and his twelve fellow dwarves continue their quest to retake their home within The Lonely Mountain. Hot on their trail is the pale orc Azog and his troops. Their journey takes them through cursed forests, ancient runs, and expansive mountains. They encounter skinchangers, giant spiders, elven warriors, and of course a deadly fire-breathing dragon named Smaug. The urgency grows, the stakes get higher, and by the end we are set up for what should be a tremendous final chapter.

I have to admit I was really surprised at just how well the story moves along and how much ground is covered. I’ll admit there were a couple of points where things slowed down a tad and Jackson does buy some time while his camera pans around admiring the beautiful scenery or impressive set pieces. But as a whole these things didn’t bother me. The story is compelling and the excitement moves from one great action sequence to another. The best is an amazing barrel escape down a white rapid river as an army of orcs attack our heroes from the shores. It’s an incredible spectacle to watch.

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I think the decision to include sections from Tolkien’s “The Return of the King” appendices was a key reason this worked. Having read neither “The Hobbit” nor the “Lord of the Rings”, I can’t say how well the film melds the contents of both books. But from a cinematic standpoint the appendices do a great job of not only adding more content and weight to the story but also connecting it to the three “Lord of the Rings” films. Some have taken issue with this creative choice but for me it worked very well and it helps bring together Jackson’s massive cinematic universe. There is a clear link being formed between the two trilogies which go beyond simple references. Old favorite Legolas (Orlando Bloom) has an action-packed presence in this film. The true corrupting influence of the ‘one ring’ begins to surface. And there are several other cool connections that I wouldn’t dare spoil.

Once again the characters of the story are a real treat. Ian McKellen is great as always although he is given a few too many overly dramatic lines. You know the ones – the camera zooms in on his face and he utters an intense one-liner about the peril that lies ahead. Martin Freeman hits another home run as Bilbo. There is a real transformation (both good and bad) going on in the character and Freeman’s performance wonderfully captures that. But perhaps my favorite performance again comes from Richard Armitage as Thorin. This strong but emotionally driven character is tough as nails but he is constantly trying to reign in his sorrow, anger, and thirst for revenge. It’s a great character and a great performance.

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But there are also some really good new characters introduced. Evangeline Lilly plays Tauriel, a headstrong elf who can certainly hold her own. Then there is Luke Evans who plays Bard, a single father who finds himself thrust into the middle of Thorin’s quest. Both have significant roles and add a lot to the picture. I also like Lee Pace’s small but intriguing part as an Elvenking from Mirkwood. And then there is Benedict Cumberbatch who voices Smaug the fearsome, treasure-hoarding dragon. There simply couldn’t have been a greater choice than Cumberbatch. Then you have the twelve other dwarves. Thankfully we do see an expanded role for a couple of them, but unfortunately the majority of them remain indistinct making empathy for them rather tough.

So let me get back to the original debate. Could “The Hobbit” story be told in two films? Probably so. Am I glad they expanded it to three by adding content from “The Lord of the Rings”? Absolutely! “The Desolation of Smaug” is a solid answer to the questions and criticisms thrown its way. The special effects are superb, the action sequences had my heart racing, the danger and imminence is there, and we spend more time with some wonderful characters. On the flip-side there are a couple of lulls and the indistinct tag-along dwarves still bug me. But those gripes do little to hurt the overall experience and Peter Jackson has me hooked for what the third installment will bring. It should be a blast.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

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32 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

  1. Good review Keith. While it does feel long in spots, I still had a good time with this and can see myself really involved with the next, hopefully final installment.

    • Thanks. U really went back and forth between 4 stars and 4.5 stars. I really liked this film a lot. I see it as an improvement over the first and it really sets up an intriguing finale.

  2. Outstanding review Keith! I also really enjoyed this one and I’m overly excited for next year’s finale. Luke Evans and Evangeline Lilly really caught me off guard. Their performances were masterful, Lilly even managed to get me a tiny bit smitten with her Tauriel. Of course though, Cumberbatch steals the show, his Smaug is immense, fierce, and diabolical. I really don’t see how Tolkien fans can be disappointed with this flick. I get the original hate towards the trilogy and the initial film, but holy hell this is a terrific addition to Jackson’s Middle Earth.

    • I agree and I can see myself changing my score to a 4.5. I liked it that much. Stronger and more adventurous movie and as I said, the sense of peril really amps up in this one. Great improvement!

  3. Nice review man. I definitely thought this was a step up over the first. It felt a lot more mature and definitely more perilous. I did think there was some really dodgy CGI at times but I’m super excited to see the final installment.

    • Thanks man! Interesting take on the CGI. I didn’t really notice it except with the big cat things the orcs were riding. This movie really kept me involved and the cliffhanger was mighty good!

  4. Great review, I had a brilliant time watching this film 😀

    Its still a bit too long but if I had to stay in any imaginary world middle earth isn’t too bad ;D

    Smaug stole the show and I am glad he did, great visuals and just an all over better film than the first hobbit, hope the trend continues into part 3 😀

    • I’m with you 100%. It actually left me giddy with excitement for part three. And as someone who hasn’t read the book, I’m really anxious to see how things end!

      Thanks for the comments!

    • I’m with you 100%. It actually left me giddy with excitement for part three. And as someone who hasn’t read the book, I’m really anxious to see how things end!

      Thanks for the comments!

  5. Wahoo!!! I’m so happy to hear you love this, Keith, hope your son loved it too! I’m especially thrilled to read this “…my favorite performance again comes from Richard Armitage as Thorin.” High five! He’s such an excellent actor and this second film really showed his range and what he could do. LOVE Smaug too, Cumberbatch is yet another perfect casting in this trilogy once again!

    Merry Christmas Keith!

    • Hey Ruth! Did you notice how the sense of peril and urgency was really amped up in this movie? That was a big deal for me. The quest really feels important now and the stakes are through the roof!

      • Yes absolutely! I really felt for the team this time around, especially when they finally reached Erebor. It’s quite an emotional film and not as goofy as the first one. I think the third one is gonna be even MORE exciting!

      • Great point about the goofiness. That was one of the things that held me back a little about the first flick. It was a little to silly in spots which made the tone pretty inconsistent.

  6. I wasn’t a big fan of the first one because the story was so stretched out, plus there are just way too many dwarves – I only know Thorin but that’s probably because he is the main hero and he is crazy hot 🙂 But I do like Evangeline and dragons so I’ll probably like this one more.

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  9. Just saw it this past weekend and I enjoyed this a lot, I was surprised when it ended, because I did not feel like I was watching for three hours already.

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