The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a visual spectacle that packs more action and thrill than the first installment of the trilogy, which is appropriately so given its supposed goal of upping the ante for the final movie.
Aside from the characters in the first Hobbit movie, The Desolation of Smaug brings back fan-favorite Legolas (Orlando Bloom) along with a new character Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), the only ass-kicking female character in the movie. The movie spends time developing Tauriel, which could be a foreshadowing of how important her role will turn out to be when the trilogy concludes.
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Much of the limelight is focused on the titular character, a formidable dragon voiced by BBC Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch does a superb job breathing life into Smaug with the right mix of arrogance, conceit and terrifying authority. His voice is highly effective, so much so that Smaug’s frightening presence eclipses that of Sauron’s.
The best action scenes are courtesy of Legolas and Tauriel, while the band of dwarves take the supporting role in fighting back against the despicable Orcs.
The dwarves are not as animated and comical as in the first movie, but Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) still has his signature quirkiness despite a more developed character.
Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is also seen in action after a long time, a break from the usual wise-man behavior typical of his wizard character.
The film derives its appeal mainly on the visual smorgasbord it offers: magnificent landscapes, a threatening forest inhabited by gigantic spiders, an illustrious elf kingdom, a dingy port town, an imposing mountain where most of the action happens, and probably the most realistic dragon we have seen in a while.
The Desolation of Smaug is a delight, although the presentation of the main characters’ plights as they journey back to their stolen kingdom in the Lonely Mountain could have been more pronounced throughout the film.
The movie catapults the characters into a series of unfortunate events from the beginning, but most of the overall insufficient drama only happens in the latter part of the film. Jackson is not very liberal with injecting emotions as he shows the dwarves’ journey to reclaim their kingdom, which somewhat makes the job of sympathizing with their frustrating plight a bit more difficult. The drama happens when the dwarves manage to return to their homeland despite everything, but the catharsis is immediately punctuated and the viewer is left asking for more.
As a second installment for a trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug indeed builds up the anticipation for the grand conclusion, setting up the audience to expect only a finale of epic proportions.