Welcome to Hobbit Week! Since yesterday, and over the course of the next two days, our beloved N. Demmy is going to be reviewing Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, telling you what he thinks of it, if it’s any good, etc. We hope you enjoy this review and the final one tomorrow! Get ready, ’cause we’re going on an adventure!
Directed by Peter Jackson.
Written by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro.
Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lily, Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans, Lee Pace and Benedict Cumberbatch.
PG-13, 162 minutes.
After a somewhat unnecessary opening flashback, The Desolation of Smaug sets off on a fast pace and ends just as the going gets tough. It’s the movie’s main strength, and its main weakness. Its more of a crowd-pleaser than its immediate predecessor, An Unexpected Journey, yet one can’t help but get the feeling that something is lost in the process.
Picking up immediately where the first left off, the quest continues with Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the not-so-merry band of dwarves journeying through spider-infested forests, a kingdom of isolationist elves and a corrupt town of men before culminating in an encounter with the titular dragon, Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) goes on a side quest, investigating some dark goings-on that threaten the rest of the world with apocalyptic implications.
While the three-movie split didn’t ruin the first movie, nor does it entirely sink the proceedings here, there is a marked evaporation of urgency and tension in the opening “act” that doesn’t become a motion picture, rather a television miniseries (what mainstream cinema is essentially turning into, but that’s perhaps a subject for another article). This prospect is most felt with the handling of Bilbo himself. The first film did such a great job of establishing Bilbo’s love of home and comfort, setting him off on a journey that he may never return from, and ultimately having him decide to commit to Thorin’s cause based on empathy and a developing friendship with the dwarves. This movie, however, has nowhere to go with the character beyond having him spring the dwarves from traps and occasionally act strangely, a result of his ownership of the Ring.
It would appear on first glance that this film’s focus instead lies with Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), the heir to the throne under the mountain, but there isn’t much here in the way of anything as strong as Bilbo’s arc in the first film. Maybe it’s because the film is too busy setting up so many subplots to fill out the running time. Taking a look at every single one of them, too, doesn’t yield many that prove beneficial to the story, like a forced love triangle and a more-prolonged-than-neccesary excursion into Laketown that almost kills the movie dead.
Shortly put, The Desolation of Smaug doesn’t feel like a complete movie all unto itself. It’s not really trying to, but even An Unexpected Journey stumbled onto a tenuous completeness through. The glut of action sequences that come fast and furious arrive with little regard for consistency in tone or, in one major instance, satisfactory payoff.
Just when the whole thing threatens to fall woefully flat, the dragon comes in and salvages some excitement. Beautifully rendered with a simultaneously elegant and menacing voice, the effects used to put the dragon on-screen serves to highlight some of the film’s shoddier effects (the orcs, for one thing). The battle of wits between Bilbo and Smaug is easily the best portion of the film, justifying the insane amount of buildup.
That being said, the ending is troublesome. The credits roll right in the middle of an action sequence, leaving audiences in an un-earned limbo of discomfort, which could serve to further undermine the integrity behind the three-movie split.
Weighed down by weak subplots and some pacing issues, The Desolation of Smaug is still worth a passing recommendation purely based on its thrilling final half-hour.
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