The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a much better, livelier and more action-packed film than its predecessor The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Now, we enjoyed the first Peter Jackson The Hobbit film, there’s just something in his second chapter of his The Hobbit trilogy that shows that the filmmaker has taken it up a few notches.
Whereas the first film had long scenes involving dwarves enjoying merriment at Bilbo’s Shire home and others like it, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is keenly more focused. Yes, there is exposition, but it is handled in a crisper way that moves this film along at a fiercer pace. It is still right around three hours long, but it in no way feels like it.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug may have the absolute best action sequence of 2013. From here on out, simply saying "The Barrel Scene" will immediately conjure up images of our dwarves, Hobbit and Elven heroes careening down a rapids waterway trying to escape invading Orcs. But The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is so much more. It has heart, triumph over adversity and the fight for what’s right feel that made The Lord of the Rings trilogy one of Hollywood’s best.
Jackson actually starts his second epic chapter with a flashback that adds so much in context. No spoilers here, but it involves Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and has us realizing that this quest that involves Bilbo had been long thought out, well before the Wizard landed on the Hobbit's doorstep.
Martin Freeman is Bilbo, and as the film picks up where the last one ended, he is on an epic quest to rid the dragon Smaug from the mountain home of a group of dwarves. He has found “The Ring” and it will play a huge part in this second chapter. That circle of gold also shows the rumblings of the awakening of evil that fully is on display in The Lord of the Rings.
It’s fascinating how the J.R.R. Tolkien film series has played out with the audience knowing where the larger world of Middle Earth is headed -- all while watching it build towards that in Jackson’s The Hobbit.
We are also introduced to a few new-to-the-film-series characters, including Luke Evans’ Bard. Our fellowship, who seeks to rid the evil dragon Smaug from the dwarves' home, meets his human in his native Lake-town, and he reluctantly becomes a huge help to our crew and thus will play a huge part in the third film, The Hobbit: There and Back Again.
Evans is fantastic and elevates the performance of every actor around him. It is through the Bard character that we get the bigger picture feel of why this quest is so important. It is about much more than ridding a dragon from his stolen perch.
Then there is Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel. Fans of the book The Hobbit know all too well that there is no female elf character named Tauriel on any one of the pages. Jackson has inserted this character into the story, and at first, it may cause fans pause. But, let us assure you, she is a terrific addition to the landscape and Lilly is astounding in the role.
Tolkien was writing in a different time, and it would have been irresponsible in today’s world to present a story without a single female protagonist. And Lilly takes the challenge and creates a character that firmly sits in Tolkien’s world. She is not simply window dressing, but an integral part of the action and drama. She gives Orlando Bloom’s Legolas something to round him out, that will ultimately set him up for the adventure he partakes in during The Lord of the Rings.
And we have to give props to Benedict Cumberbatch for his turn as Smaug. He joins Andy Serkis in the motion capture performance world and succeeds on every level. He is every ounce the evil being we know from the pages of Tolkien and makes the fire-breather a three-dimensional powerhouse that has us waiting with utter eagerness for the final Hobbit chapter landing in theaters next year.
Jackson firmly knows this world. There could have been no better visionary to tackle Tolkien’s rich universe. He grows as a filmmaker with each successive chapter, and what he has accomplished with this film, we are proud to report in our The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug review, is an impressive feat. He took a gamble by expanding a piece of art painted by one of the best in Tolkien, and he's elevated it to a level that is a treat for the eyes, ears and hearts of the world’s audiences.