The first installment in Peter Jacksons Hobbit trilogy, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ got mixed reviews. I personally felt that the criticism was a little unjust, as I enjoyed the film far more than I thought I would after hearing my peers bash it. However, it certainly wasn’t perfect, and with ‘The Desolation of Smaug,’ Jackson was looking to deliver the kind of masterpiece he did with The Lord of the Rings.
Following their narrow escape to conclude the previous film, Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and crew continue their journey with the Orcs still on their trail every step. In order to allow the Dwarves to retake their crown under the mountain, they will have to contend with the Orcs, the Elves and of course, the sleeping dragon Smaug.
One of the criticisms of ‘The Unexpected Journey’ was that its energy and pacing was slow and uninspiring, and that it lacked some of the magic that The Lord of the Rings had. While I didn’t whole heartedly agree it wasn’t complete off base, but fortunately ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ had the distinct advantage of not requiring any real set up or plot development. The journey is in full swing, which basically allowed Peter Jackson to pour on the action pretty quickly.
From an opening battle with some rather large arachnids, to an incredible escape scene where our band travel down a river in barrels while Orcs and Elves battle it out around them. The choreography is wild and outlandish, but that’s just what we want to see from this particular franchise. Combined with the now perfected high frame rate 3D this really is a pretty unique spectacle to watch, and it continues throughout the film.
The storyline itself develops quickly, introducing characters quickly and forcing us to keep up with the speedy back story development. This can be difficult in such a large and convoluted story, as these characters are given large segments in the books, but Jackson still manages to get us to understand and care about characters such as Bard or Tauriel the elf, without spending too much time on their backstory. We may take this for granted but it’s a commendable skill that helps the movie move at a breakneck pace.
The acting is good, as usual and the smaller characters fill their roles commendably, delivering their moments when required. Ian McKellen is his usual powerful presence and Martin Freeman does the same job providing his dry humor to the role, despite a little less screen time. Evangeline Lilly is the main newcomer to the franchise and does a nice job as Tauriel, and it was good to bring a fan favorite such as Legolas (Orlando Bloom) back into the mix, as his action scenes are fantastic and creative.
Of course the title of the film is named after the legendary dragon Smaug, and therefore the film had a lot of responsibility to really delivering something special in this department. Fortunately, Jackson did just that, and the special effects on the beast were fantastic. It is certainly the best on screen dragon ever created in cinema in terms of realism, and with the voice acting skills of Benedict Cumberbatch, he was a joy to behold.
My only qualm with the film personally is that it all seemed a bit disjointed at times, and I think Jackson took the criticism from his first installment and over compensated slightly. I’ve always enjoyed some of the more detailed story elements, so what many probably preferred about this film, I may have taken the other side. Also, a pet peeve of mine is horrible kid-actors and they certainly picked some of the worst I’ve seen in recent memory to play Bard’s children later on in the film. Child actors have come a long way since the early days of Hollywood, but this was an embarrassing step backwards.
‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ was a strong improvement on the first installment and brought a wonderful level of action and pacing to a franchise that many felt was going to fall short. While it lacked a little in the story development department, it did manage to cram an awful lot into its running time without getting boring. The choreography and special effects, particularly on the dragon, Smaug, did not disappoint, and even if you didn’t enjoy ‘The Unexpected Journey’ I’d suggest you check this one out.