Let me start by saying that I think turning The Hobbit into a Lord of the Rings-esque epic trilogy is just not a good idea. It’s such a smaller story that no matter how much they try to make it bigger and more important, it’s going to end up as the poor man’s Lord of the Rings instead of its own, unique thing. I’ve seen two thirds of the adaptation now, and this was the wrong way to go. However good they make them, and I’ve liked them so far, they suffer by comparison.
That being said, I really enjoyed The Desolation of Smaug. They avoided most of the stuff I didn’t like in An Unexpected Journey (there were no musical numbers in this one), and evened out the tone and pace. Plus, Mirkwood elves! They were just perfect.
One of the strongest choices in The Hobbit remains the hobbit himself, Martin Freeman as Bilbo. He was a brilliant casting choice, and he’s even more entertaining here as he comes into his own as a burglar. There’s a new confidence to Bilbo, mostly due to the fact that he’s got the ring in his front pocket whenever he needs it, and it’s a lot of fun to watch him save his friends and face off against a dragon.
Speaking of dragons, Smaug is pretty freaking cool. The CGI is great, Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice is sinister and regal, and he lives up to the five hours of buildup waiting to see him for the first time. The fight in Erebor goes on for far too long and is sort of ridiculous, but Smaug looks awesome through it all. I can’t even imagine the thousands of man hours that went into rendering him, and they absolutely nailed it.
The best part of the movie, though, were the elves. Lee Pace as Thranduil was just spectacular. I love him already because he’s Ned the pie maker from Pushing Daisies, but Ned was all warm and endearing while Thranduil is a straight up jerk. Pace pulls it off so well; those eyebrows were made for playing an elf king. He completely captures Thranduil’s cold disdain for the rest of the world, and the way he carries himself and uses his body to communicate the king’s insouciance and self-importance is just spot on.
And Tauriel! Both Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are sorely lacking in female characters, and while I’m usually not keen on adaptations adding things to the story, The Hobbit needed a Tauriel. Her character fit into the story really well, and she was a nice counter to the rest of the Mirkwood elves. Evangeline Lilly was a great choice for the role, and while she was totally bad ass and fantastic in the fight scenes, she brought a real warmth to the character. Her relationship with Kili was cute and a fun twist; I thought they might do an annoying, angsty sort of thing with her and Legolas, and while there was a smidgen of that the real romance was her and Kili. And man, she can kill orcs. She was taking them down like crazy.
Legolas was fine, but Thranduil and Tauriel stole all the elf thunder.
A few quick thoughts on the rest of the film:
- Beorn got sort of short changed. I haven’t read the book in a while, but I remember him having a bigger part than he did in the movie. Or maybe they added so much to the movie that an accurate depiction of his part just felt small.
- That spider fight scene was really cool.
- As was the barrel on the river scene, especially Bombur bouncing around and taking out tons of orcs. That got big laughs in my theater.
- I also dug the ringwraith tombs; that was super creepy.
- I really enjoyed Luke Evans as Bard. They beefed up the Laketown stuff a lot (again, a bit too much), and I liked what they did with someone who was just sort of there in the book. They fleshed him out a lot, and it worked for me.
- The Dol Guldur stuff was okay, but superfluous.
- Plus it’s an example of my biggest pet peeve in these movies: reusing stuff from Lord of the Rings. Gandalf gets captured by a bad guy using evil magic, a hobbit gets stabbed with a Morgul weapon and is saved by kingsfoil and a pretty lady elf, Legolas shoots a lot of arrows very quickly, a short person is obsessed with an item that has the potential to corrupt them and drive them insane. We’ve seen all of these things before. It was less ridiculous than in the first movie, but they still went there too many times.
- Lord of the Rings was so much better at geography than these Hobbit movies are. You always had a sense of where you were, and while each place felt distinct you could see in your head how the whole world tied together. I don’t have that with these movies. It doesn’t feel like a cohesive world where I understand how one place leads to the next, it feels like a bunch of disparate locales.
- SPOILER: I was surprised that the movie ended when it did on account of Chekhov’s big long metal arrow. With all that talk and setup for how to kill Smaug, I thought that’s how the movie would end, with Bard saving the city. But I guess that’ll start the next one.
Overall, I thought that The Desolation of Smaug was a big step up from the first movie, and I liked it a lot. I still think they’re going about it all the wrong way, but I’m never going to say no to more Middle Earth from Peter Jackson. Solid casting and a lot of strong moments and action scenes go a long way to make up for a flawed structure. I’m now very excited for the finale, way more than I was for this one after an only okay first film.