Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mikael Persbrandt, Sylvester McCoy, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Manu Bennett, Lawrence Makoare
Directed by Peter Jackson
Expectations: The highest of high.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is both better and worse than its predecessor. While An Unexpected Journey focused on Bilbo and his character arc, The Desolation of Smaug is more about the action and the adventurous journey. Even though we find ourselves exploring previously unseen regions of Middle Earth, there isn’t the same sense of wonder draped over The Desolation of Smaug. We’re no longer just seeing this world through Bilbo’s eyes, and while this leads to some incredible set-pieces and a lot of fun, without the wonder it’s much harder to be dazzled by this film in the same way.
But like how An Unexpected Journey did not dazzle in exactly the same way as Jackson’s previous Lord of the Rings films, The Desolation of Smaug is its own beast and should be allowed to flourish in its own way. And it does. Rather well, actually. This is a much darker, almost purely adventure section of the journey, which the film’s muted color palette helps to convey, but coincidentally this is also Jackson’s funniest Middle Earth film. Well… as long as you are on-board with Jackson’s dark sense of humor, where the biggest chuckles come from creative decapitations and other grisly treats. (Is this a record for decapitations in a PG-13 movie? I should think so.)
Storywise, if you’re reading this I’m going to assume you know what’s going on. Like the book it is based on, the Hobbit films are all about the thrill of the journey and the fun of adventuring, so there are a myriad of trials and tribulations for Bilbo and the dwarves to get through on their way to the Lonely Mountain. This seems to be the major point of contention around these films (that they don’t just get on with it), but anyone arguing this as a valid criticism is missing the point. A fantasy novel adaptation allowed such room to breathe as Jackson is given here is an absolute joy for the fans. I can’t begin to imagine how inferior a two-film version would be and I’m glad that the LOTR films were successful enough to allow for The Hobbit to deliver extended fantasy fun of a three-film magnitude.
In terms of action, The Desolation of Smaug is much different that what was seen in An Unexpected Journey. The first film’s struggles felt more tense, but the ones here are light and relentlessly entertaining. And oddly enough, the best bits seems to be creations added entirely by Jackson and the screenwriting team. Everyone will have their own favorites, of course, but for me these were the slick elven combat and the incredible finale inside Erebor. As for the finale I will say this: Watch it and try to contain your shit-eating grin, it’s not possible! I don’t want to discuss specifics on the finale, so I’ll just let leave it at that. The elves on the other hand…
If you thought Legolas was badass in the Lord of the Rings films, then you need to see The Desolation of Smaug. Not only are we treated to Legolas pulling out all the combat stops, Jackson and co. have added a female elf to the story, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), and she is a fierce competitor to Legolas for the “Most Badass Elven Warrior” award. The choreography for their movements is so precise, superhuman and impressive, it’s like the elves can see the battle five moves ahead and are merely going through the obvious motions to keep it flowing. It’s something that comes up throughout Lord of the Rings in small bursts, but it is never allowed to flourish like it is in The Desolation of Smaug. Is is too late for Jackson to be talked into making a movie solely about the elves? These elven warriors also contribute a good majority of those clever decapitations, bringing my delight during their battles to an absolute fever-pitch.
The Desolation of Smaug is a grand adventure designed first and foremost to thrill and delight. Where An Unexpected Journey brought its audiences the wonderment of being out in the world on a journey for the first time, The Desolation of Smaug shatters the dream and shows us just how dangerous and sinister the world beyond the Shire really is. The ties to Lord of the Rings are shaping up nicely as well, providing us with an interesting context to the events in those films. True, none of that is actually told in the pages of The Hobbit, but to simply make a joyous version of The Hobbit that strictly adheres to the book and ignores Lord of the Rings would be an absolute travesty. Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit is excellent fun, and is exactly what a prequel should be. I eagerly await next December and the release of the final installment.