UK Release Date: 13th December 2013
Runtime: 161 minutes
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly
Synopsis: Bilbo and the dwarves continue their quest to reclaim the kingdom of Erebor and their encounter with the terrifying titular dragon.
The case of The Hobbit is an interesting one amongst the critical fraternity. I seem to remember An Unexpected Journey being fairly well reviewed on release – certainly more than the dreary, exhausting thing deserved.
And yet, almost every review of The Desolation of Smaug starts with how much better it is than the disappointing first instalment. Retrospective negativity around critic-proof things is certainly interesting.
That said, The Desolation of Smaug is a much better film than the previous boring mess. I wish I could say that was enough.
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the dwarf group led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) continue their journey towards the Lonely Mountain, with wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) in tow. They encounter orcs, the elfin Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), giant spiders and Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans). The journey becomes even more perilous as they battle on towards their inevitable clash with the enormous beast Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).
The Desolation of Smaug initially looks like it has learnt from the mistakes made by the first film in the series. It kicks off at a rollicking pace, and indeed packs in a number of great action sequences, including the horrifying appearance of the Mirkwood spiders.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible not to feel the pages of Tolkien’s source novel being stretched until they reach breaking point. It says something damning when even thrilling bits of action feel like they go on a few minutes too long. Gandalf’s exploration of the Necromancer still feels entirely unnecessary and only serves to make the film feel even longer than the main plot already is.
As well as the pacing issues, The Desolation of Smaug still suffers from a lack of proper characterisation. Only Bilbo and lead dwarf Thorin are actually fully formed, with the rest of the dwarves being as anonymous as the other four members of the Jackson Five.
The only real attempt at emotional development outside of Bilbo is a Peter Jackson-invented love triangle between Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, dwarf Kili and film-only character Tauriel. This feels like a complete waste of time and adds absolutely nothing to the story but another 20-30 minutes of desperately tedious runtime.
Like its predecessor, the true strength of The Desolation of Smaug is its performances. Martin Freeman is perfectly cast as Bilbo and imbues the character with enormous subtlety and great complexity, which cannot be said for the blunt instruments that most of the dwarves are played as.
Freeman’s Sherlock co-star Benedict Cumberbatch excels in his voice/mo-cap role as the film’s eponymous dragon. Following on from his simmering villainy in Star Trek Into Darkness, the Brit is proving his ability to scare and menace characters and audiences. The star has said that he based the voice on his father reading the book to him as a child. That must have been a scary story time.
The Desolation of Smaug is a real improvement on its predecessor and there are some real stand-out sequences, such as the barrel escape and the aforementioned spider attack. The problem, though, is once again that Peter Jackson is trying to keep the leftovers going a week after the main meal has been eaten.
Pop or Poop?
Peter Jackson’s latest return to Middle Earth is an action-packed romp that could’ve done with a bit more brutality in the editing room. Half an hour or so shorter, The Desolation of Smaug could have stood the trilogy up nicely ahead of its final chapter.
Boasting a half-baked ending and an absence of supporting character arcs, The Hobbit continues to be a disappointing series that’s all Mount Doom and gloom.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.