In my review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (review here), I had a few major problems with the movie. The CGI was much more evident and they chose to have a few major characters be entirely computer-generated and it removed me, as a viewer, from the suspense. So is The Desolation of Smaug a step in the right direction?
Martin Freeman returns as Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who was living his life in peace when he was approached by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and 12 dwarves, who sought to reclaim their home from a dangerous dragon. This movie sees them encounter several terrifying situations, including spiders, orcs, elves, and a man who turns into a bear. And then there’s Smaug, the fire-breathing dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).
The movie is what I wanted from the first The Hobbit movie. At its heart, it’s an adventure. It’s much more light-hearted than the Lord of the Rings films but it does have moments of terror, especially with some of the things that Peter Jackson and his team added into this adventure. Let’s start with that.
They have added a substantial amount of content here. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) have significant parts, considering neither were in The Hobbit. This makes sense when you consider that Jackson has also incorporated orcs and their leader Azog into this story as well, so the elves help to counter this force. They’ve also added a significant storyline with Gandalf, as he seeks out the dark force that he believes will manifest into Sauron. Both of these stories help to ramp up the action in the story and give some more context of what will be the highlight of movie #3.
Some other additions include a deeper backstory for Bard in the city of Laketown, a substantially more action-packed climax with Smaug, and a budding love story with the elf Tauriel (Lilly) and dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner). Turner gets the best deal here, as he really stands out among the 12 dwarves and gets a few solo scenes, where the others still blend into each other.
Let me talk about Smaug. The dragon Smaug is equivalent here to Gollum in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. He is the reason you’re going to see the movie and if Smaug fails, the movie will fall apart. And just as WETA did with Gollum, they’ve done the incredible again and created an amazing monster here, looking as real as you could imagine, and flawlessly incorporating Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice. Like I said earlier, they’ve actually given Smaug more to do and there’s a pretty intense action climax that was invented for this movie and it looked gorgeous.
Martin Freeman still stands out as Bilbo and there are a few quiet moments where he completely convinces you that he’s actually a hobbit. I’ve seen Freeman in many other things, including BBC’s Sherlock and The Office and my favorite holiday film Love Actually. And I completely forget that he’s Martin Freeman here, he pulls it off completely. Jackson smartly added a few moments where the ring already starts to hold power over Bilbo and it’s perfect, helping to line up with the Lord of the Rings films.
What doesn’t work?
My biggest complaint is the same as with An Unexpected Journey. They’ve resorted to computer-generated effects far too often and it removes you from the movie. Here, we not only have the same baddie as in movie #1 Azog, but he gets a henchman that goes on a journey to kill the dwarves. The problem is both orcs look like they’re from a cutscene from a videogame. They could’ve easily done prosthetics and practical effects. The fight scenes involving these villains look like our heroes are clearly fighting nothing and there’s no weight to the fight. It just can’t compare to scenes like the battle of Helm’s Deep from Lord of the Rings, where they were all real actors in suits.
While it’s not a huge problem, it’s big enough to distract you from the movie at moments when you should feel immersed in it.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a great movie. Peter Jackson added a lot of content and nearly all of it was appreciated. It’s not often that a movie based on a book has more content. The highlights here are Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug, so the final climax of the movie will be sure to please almost all fans. It’s hard to judge the middle movie of a trilogy, since there’s really no introduction or closure… so when the third film releases, we’ll be able to see if The Desolation of Smaug did its job.