Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug / Cert: 12A / Director: Peter Jackson / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom / Release Date: 13th December
If I’m honest, I was expecting a stuttering, plodding journey from The Desolation of Smaug. After the fuzzy, visually-impressive first Hobbit film, this second part of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy could well have gone the way of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; a film that I personally found a little bland and boring, and that was bookended by two far superior films. As Smaug got started, the opening 15-20 minutes felt very samey and dithering. Added to that, it was all a bit ‘why so serious?’ for me. Seemingly every character spoke with a deep, raspy, serious tone and some of the dialogue seemed soulless and replayed. Then there was the relatively large role for Orlando Bloom’s Legolas this time out. As an avid basher of Bloom, this gave me even further concern. Sceptical, bored, worried, and uneasy at the amount of Bloom-age: that sums up my first 20 minutes of Smaug. Luckily for me, that was only a temporary blip in what turned out to be a rather fantastic movie.
Following on from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, we find Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) and the 13 dwarves, led by Thorin (Armitage), on a quest to reclaim the dwarves’ homeland from the ominous presence of the fire-breathing dragon, Smaug (voiced by Cumberbatch). In case you’re wondering, this is the film where they finally came to eye-to-eye with the dragon of legend. Amongst the story, we’re given a further look into the generations-long feud between the elves and the dwarves; we’re given aggressive, clinical dwarves on the rampage; we’re introduced to new characters; and we get to see Bilbo start to succumb to the charms of ‘the ring.’
As well as some of the familiar elf faces of previous films, such as Legolas as Lee Pace’s Thranduil, we’re introduced to Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel. Safe to say, Tauriel is quite the badass and gets involved in some brilliant action sequences, mainly at the expense of a plethora of orcs. Surprisingly, to me at least, Orlando Bloom also does rather well in some equally kickass moments. Yes, Legolas seems to ‘surf’ on pretty much any and every thing here, but some of his moments in battle are ridiculously brutal for a 12A film. As with Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, it seems that extreme violence and beheadings are fine for a 12A rating so long as they’re on orcs and not actual people.
As well as some brutally violent scenes, The Desolation of Smaug hosts several hugely epic scenes, such as a particularly daring water-based escape from the group of 13 dwarves. In the higher frame rate resolution, these happenings like absolutely stunning. Whereas it took me a good 30 minutes for my head to get used to Jackson’s visual approach to An Unexpected Journey, this time out it was seamless. From the water escape, to the highest rock faces, to the battle with Smaug himself, Jackson’s second Hobbit film looks fantastic.
In terms of performances, Richard Armitage again shines as Thorin, the leader of the dwarves, and the warrior with the iron will. A new addition, Luke Evans is also impressive as Bard, a man who Bilbo and the dwarves encounter on their journey. Whilst I’m still hesitant on the whole idea, Evans shows enough to make me think he could do very well as Eric Draven in the upcoming The Crow reboot. Still, that topic’s for another day. Benedict Cumberbatch is delightfully menacing as the voice of Smaug, and the beast himself looks fantastic. My only issue with Smaug is that the character is talked about as this creature of legend, of someone with very little mercy. If that’s the case, why does he struggle so much to take out even one of the many dwarves and singular hobbit that disrupt his slumber? As Thorin says, he has become fat and complacent, but still… I expect a little more bloodshed.
The Desolation of Smaug is a far better film that I expected. It has a truly epic feel to it in terms of scale, it’s a progressive, fast-moving affair, and it gives us introduction to some great new characters. Granted, I haven’t read The Hobbit, so I can’t judge the film based on the book, but I found the film a really enjoyable experience – I was genuinely surprised! This second of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy is almost the complete opposite of what we saw in the second of his Lord of the Rings trilogy, and that is definitely a good thing. Eclipsing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, this middle chapter of Jackson’s second trilogy is likely the third best of his whole Rings experience – behind The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – and will have audiences impatiently awaiting the conclusion of The Hobbit with next year’s There and Back Again.