Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice) et al.
Yesterday for my birthday I was treated to a trip to the cinema to see The Desolation of Smaug, the second part of the big budget Hobbit trilogy. Having only managed to catch 2012’s An Unexpected Journey a little over a month ago, I was well prepared for this two-and-a-half-hour journey into epicdom.
Following a Bree-based flashback, the film opens with Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Bilbo (Freeman), Thorin and the dwarves (Armitage et al.) fleeing from the goblin hordes before sheltering in the house of dwarf-hating shape-shifting bear-man Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt). Fortunately Beorn’s hate of dwarves is surpassed by his hate of orcs, so he protects the party and advises them that the only route they can take on their quest is through Mirkwood, the forest of the dwarf-hating elves (I’m sensing a pattern here). Before entering Gandalf heads off on one of his characteristic mysterious quests, promising to meet up afterwards (pull the other one, wizard). In the forest the elves, captained by the ever-popular Legolas (Orlando Bloom), help rescue the troupe from giant spiders but soon lock up the dwarves in their forest fortress. Bilbo, by virtue of being able to turn invisible (some sort of magic, I suspect), evades capture as always and cunningly engineers everyone’s escape by floating them downriver in empty barrels, despite the combined efforts of elf and orc. This is in fact the best sequence of the film, as we get to see the bloodbath everyone loves mixed with some beautifully choreographed scenes only made possible by dwarves in barrels. They float to the mouth of a lake, and are smuggled into conveniently-named Laketown by the unpopular Bard (Luke Evans). After winning over the town, the dwarves make the journey to the Lonely Mountain minus the wounded Kili (Aidan Turner), caught in a love triangle between Legolas and she-Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), his loyal brother Fili (Dean O’Gormann) and Bofur (James Nesbitt), who drank too much and overslept. Thorin, driven by Boromir-esque greed, brings the others into the mountain to reclaim the Arkenstone from the great dragon Smaug (Cumberbatch), while Laketown is ambushed by orcs and Gandalf confronts the Necromancer (also Cumberbatch) in a duel he can never win and ends up trapped (sound familiar?). The picture ends with Smaug heading off to wreak havoc on Laketown, just like Bard warned.
Of course as the middle film of a trilogy there are no real conclusions of any sort, but there’s enough action to stand the movie mostly on its own and the character development, notably absent in the first film, is admirable in the second. Perhaps this is a vote in favour of stretching the novel into three movies, as it would be nowhere near enough time to devote to more than a couple of characters were this not the case. This is seen particularly in the case of young dwarf Kili, and, unlike for example Frodo and Galadriel, Legolas’s reappearance is actually worthwhile. The introduction of Lilly (another TV actress) as Tauriel, a character not really seen in the book, surprisingly adds a welcome softer element to a film that might otherwise have been too action packed (i.e. the previous film). It still retains the moments of humour, mostly provided by Stephen Hunter’s Bombur and Stephen Fry’s Master of Laketown.
Overall it’s fair to say that it’s pretty pointless watching this film if you haven’t seen An Unexpected Journey and don’t plan to see next year’s conclusion, There and Back Again. In fact, it’s a bit pointless reviewing the film at all because if you’re interested in the series you’re obligated to watch it and if you’re not then it’s a waste of (quite a lot of) your time. But I think it’s a promising improvement on the first film, and I think the average Tolkien-lover will find The Desolation of Smaug very enjoyable, which I can definitely say I did.
My Rating: 8/10