The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Posted by Joel Copling on December 13, 2014.

If 2012's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" was a solid but problematic opening entry to Peter Jackson's follow-up trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit," then 2013's second act, subtitled "The Desolation of Smaug," is a less-than-solid exaggeration of all that film's issues--and it's still eight minutes shorter. This is the kind of movie whose major setpiece--an encounter with a vindictive and deliciously creepy dragon--is still marred by a cartoonish chase before an almost-mid-sentence cliffhanger. And even as that setpiece is the major one, it is far from the showstopper, which arrives before this inflated second act even reaches its halfway point: a rousing sequence involving the transport of a dozen dwarves down a river as Orcs and elves fight above and, sometimes on top of them.

The scene is a thrilling and unexpected one, built from a penchant for physical comedy of such imagination it lifts this viewer out of his seat by the mere thought of it (My favorite bit is when the big-bellied Bombur, played by Stephen Hunter, barrel hops entirely by accident through more than a dozen Orcs, greatly depleting the number of aggressors). The desire for all the overlong developments elsewhere, involving Bilbo Baggins's (Martin Freeman) continued journey toward the Lonely Mountain to steal back Thorin Oakenshield's (Richard Armitage) birthright (the Arkenstone or the MacGuffin, whichever title one prefers) and Gandalf's (Ian McKellen) investigation into a dark force that is eking from the ruins of an old Orc fortress, to just disappear and be replaced by two hours of the graceful ballet of the barrel sequence isn't misplaced.

By the time we get to the dragon at hand, an enormous specimen by the name of Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch, who performs, not only this role, but also that of the Dark Lord Sauron, in disguise as a shapeless void called by woodsmen the Necromancer, via performance-capture) with whom Bilbo shares an invigorating battle of wits, we've been so exhausted by all the extracurricular activities (Evangeline Lilly arrives to the series as Tauriel, an original and entirely unnecessary creation of Jackson's own, and engages in a three-way flirtation with Orlando Bloom's Legolas and Aidan Turner's ruggedly handsome dwarf Kili) that the phenomenon of investment has been betrayed. "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" has its moments, but this is not much more than a trivial bridge to hopefully superior things.

Film Information

Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins), Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield), Ken Stott (Balin), Graham McTavish (Dwalin), William Kircher (Bifur), James Nesbitt (Bofur), Stephen Hunter (Bombur), Dean O'Gorman (Fili), Aidan Turner (Kili), John Callen (Oin), Peter Hambleton (Gloin), Jed Brophy (Nori), Mark Hadlow (Dori), Adam Brown (Ori), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel), Lee Pace (Thranduil), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Benedict Cumberbatch (Smaug/The Necromancer), Mikael Persbrandt (Beorn), Sylvester McCoy (Radagast), Luke Evans (Bard/Girion), Stephen Fry (Master of Laketown), Ryan Gage (Alfrid).

Directed by Peter Jackson and written by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo Del Toro, based on the novel "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Rated PG-13 (extended intense fantasy action violence, frightening images).

161 minutes.

Released on December 15, 2013.