Peter Jackson’s second installment of the prequel trilogy makes a right move in hitting the ground running. It begins a year before the events of the rest of the film, with a nice introductory scene of Thorin(Richard Armitage) and Gandalf(Ian McKellen) as well as Jackson reprising his cameo role of “carrot-eating man” from “The Fellowship of the Ring” in Bree.
From there we spend the next 150 minutes as Bilbo(Martin Freeman) and the rest of the dwarf company as they make their way through the elvish woods and Laketown eventually ending up at The Lonely Mountain to reclaim Ereborn where they confront the dragon Smaug.
To Jackson’s strength, he is one of the only directors in Hollywood who can make a near-3 hour film that does not allow itself to get slow and boring. This is a chief strength that “Desolation of Smaug” has over “An Unexpected Journey”. Where the first film severely(yet with such intrinsic joy) dragged in it’s first half, this film remains at an almost impatient pace throughout its runtime. Which ends up being a bit of a fault for itself as well. Jackson, in this new trilogy, seems to lack the right balance of patience and excitement that the original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy championed so well. And if I’m going to compare these films back to their cinematic predecessors, one flaw in this new trilogy lies in the character construct. Halfway through “Fellowship”, I knew who each member of the Fellowship was, their names, their quirks, what role they played in this company. In this new trilogy, even after the 2nd film, I can still only count on one hand the number of dwarves I can identify without having to look at IMDB. This new fellowship lacks diversity between characters, causing them all to mesh together, although to Jackson’s benefit, I’m so entertained I don’t really care to find out.
Martin Freeman still remains the perfect man for the job of a younger Bilbo, maximizing his role in the dwarf company in this film. To get through a 9-hour trilogy, you need an actor the audience can watch for that long, and Freeman is excellent to watch as Bilbo. Armitage does well as Thorin as well, and the audience certainly gets a more in-depth look at his motivations in this film. Orlando Bloom returns as Legolas in this film, and due to us already knowing so much about this character, this film thankfully cuts right to the chase with him and lets Legolas do what he does best: Kill Orcs in extravagant bad-ass fashion, and look effortlessly good while doing it.
While there are moments of visual effects that look painfully right out of a video game – another fault of these films compared to LOTR, these have an over-reliance on visual effects rather than physical effects – you sort of learn to forgive them as soon as Smaug is on screen. Jackson has once again outdone himself with Smaug, in a visual effects creation that truly deserves the description of “cinematic”. The audience remains in constant awe in the final hour of the film as Bilbo and company try their best to escape from Smaug. This is helped tremendously by the voice-acting(and motion capture) from Benedict Cumberbatch. His voice alone manages to give a great amount of character to the dragon, sadly more than most physical performances in the film have.
And while I appreciate a good cliffhanger ending, and this film certainly has just that, I can’t help but acknowledge that it didn’t exactly resolve any of the conflict or plotlines that it brought up preceding it’s finish.
At the end Bilbo rhetorically asks “What have we done?”. Well besides learning the correct pronunciation of Smaug, not a lot. But I never regretted any of it. While we can complain a lot about the missteps in this new trilogy, one thing remains constant throughout each film: I had so much fun watching them, and would gladly watch them multiple times more.