The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the second part of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, and improves on the original in quite a few areas. The film feels similar to the first part but maintains its pace and sense of excitement throughout.
As with the first film, the Desolation of Smaug doesn’t follow the book’s storyline exactly by adding in scenes from the appendices of the Lord of the Rings and some new material in the form of lady elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). Tauriel does not feel out of place at all and throws a much-needed female character into the mix to compliment the vast array of different male characters. What comes with Tauriel is a small-scale love sub-plot between her and the dwarf Kili, which feels just a tad tacked on but does not ruin the film in any way.
The other more notable addition to the film was Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and I’m going to be honest here: I was worried about Legolas and how he would fit into the narrative – let’s just say that my worries were entirely unsubstantiated. Legolas melds into the greater narrative of the film very well and it really is great seeing him (along with Tauriel) kicking all kinds of Orc ass. There are a couple of nods to the Lord of the Rings with Legolas which merely act as fan service, showing us that he does not really enjoy the company of dwarves in a light-hearted manner.
Orlando Bloom and Evangeline Lilly are not the only new faces in this film, Luke Evans plays Bard the Bowman fantastically, Lee Pace hams it up slightly as elf King Thranduil, Stephen Fry doesn’t get quite enough screen time as Master of Laketown, John Bell plays Bain, son of bard confidently and Mikael Persbrandt is brilliant as Beorn but only gets a small role (we’ll presumably see more of him in the third part). The acting in the film is largely very good, but the real standouts for me were Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Richard Armitage as Thorin and Martin Freeman as Bilbo – each reprising their roles wonderfully.
However, a few of the more minor characters are not acted all that well and slightly dampen the scenes they are in: Bard’s daughters in particular carry a certain irritating aura with them. As these characters are very minor, they do not spoil the film as a whole, but I do wish Bard’s daughters got less time on screen than the two minutes or so that they did.
Characters seem to prove still a sticking point in this film as there are just too many to remember, but this is not really a problem of the film, no, Peter Jackson and his team did a great job at getting Kili more developed – it is a problem of the source material. The Hobbit focuses on the twelve dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf (as well as Smaug and Bard), but to be honest the dwarves never really do much other than Thorin, the films do as good a job as they can with the source material and have made the dwarves do more than they did in the book, only a good thing.
Major points of contention with most viewers of the original film were the characters Radagast and Azog. Both of these characters are handled better this time around however, maybe thanks to less time on screen, but to be honest I never really had much of a problem with either of those characters beyond the bunny sled (that does return but no attention is paid to it) and the slightly dodgy CGI of Azog.
CGI was another point of contention in the first film, again, I had no real problem with it but in the Desolation of Smaug there are a few more Orcs in traditional makeup and conventional effects. The effects though, by gar they’re pretty. The Desolation of Smaug is a nice looking film that demands to be seen in 3D, everything comes to life beautifully in 3D in The Hobbit and in fact it may be the best use of the 3D effect I have seen in a film.
48 fps, you should know where you stand by now in terms of that but as seeing it for the first time I can safely say that you do not need to see the film in the higher frame-rate, other than maybe for Smaug who looks even better in 48 fps.
Where the first film bumbled along and took time to get the quest started, the Desolation of Smaug (after the prologue) gets right into the action, moving from set-piece to set-piece with the right amount of care and character development. In its slower moments, the Desolation of Smaug takes time to show aspects from all corners of the multi-layered narrative, with a great eye for pacing and the right amount of switching between different plot-points.
Each of the set-pieces are magnificent and show Peter Jackson still has a fine eye for the grandiose while being able to create the sillier, more fun action sequences such as the brilliant barrel riding scene, which is just as good, if not better than the escape from Goblin town in the first film.
The Desolation of Smaug plays a fine balancing act of the darker themes while still remaining in some way similar to the light-hearted and whimsical nature of the book. Overall, the film is darker than the first and is all the better for it – this is how good we wanted An Unexpected Journey to be.
How have I not mentioned Smaug by this point? As if the rest of the film wasn’t good enough, when Bilbo meets Smaug the following thirty or so minutes is by far the best thing I saw in the cinema throughout the whole of 2013; it runs along smoothly, looks fantastic and is most importantly exciting all while building the character of both Bilbo and Thorin. Throughout the last half hour of the film Smaug in Erebor is intersected classily with Gandalf in Dul Guldur (really cool by the way) and Legolas and pals in Laketown holding the Orcs off from Kili in spectacular fashion.
The spectacle, CGI and grandeur of the scenes in Erebor mix together perfectly, all held together by Benedict Cumberbatch’s fantastic voice-work of Smaug. Cumberbatch’s performance as Smaug is none other than the best cinema dragon ever seen and the highlight of an already mightily impressive feast of a film. Smaug really is that good – one of the best villains of recent years.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the best film made in 2013, with a tight pace, fantastic set-pieces and very smart mixing and presentation of a multi-layered narrative that is ultimately building into the third and final part due next Christmas. There are a couple of hiccups in acting of minor characters and general problems of there being too many characters (not a problem of the film, but the source material) persist. Oh, and Smaug: did I mention him?
The Desolation of Smaug provides a tighter, darker and better film than An Unexpected Journey. Bring on part three. Now.