Has it been a year already? Time has definitely flown by very quickly. Around this time last year I watched and reviewed the first chapter of director Peter Jackson’s HOBBIT trilogy THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (which you can read my review for it here) and I couldn’t wait to check out the next one. Now one year later the 2nd chapter in the trilogy has finally arrived in the form of THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SAUMG. Was this film just as good if not better than the first one? Well, read on and find out!
Set a few minutes after events of the previous film, we follow Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gandaf the Grey (Ian McKellen) as they continue their journey to the Lonely Mountain to help Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his band of Dwarfs to reclaim their homeland from the evil dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Unfortunately they also happened to be hunted by a party of Orcs, who are led by an old nemesis of Thorin named Azog (Manu Bennett). Along their way, Gandaf notices a strange marking of a tree. Without explanation, he decides to leave and Bilbo and the Dwarfs that he’ll meet them at the Lonely Mountain soon. As they continue with their quest, Bilbo and the Dwarfs runs into many adventures and dangers. Including meeting some new allies: the Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace). the warrior Wood Elves Legolas (Orlando Bloom) & Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), the skin-changer Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) and the archer Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans). Also Bilbo discovers more about the powers of the One Ring.
I know that there were some people out there who had some problems on the previous film AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, personally I really enjoyed it. I do agree that it was pretty flawed and it wasn’t on the level of THE LORD OF THE RINGS films, but I thought it was still a really good film overall. So you can definitely say that I was still excited to check out THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. Now having seen it, I can safely say that this one is a pretty damn good follow-up that in a lot of ways does improve over the 1st one. While the first one was a good set-up film that took its time to establish both the characters and the story, but for this one director Peter Jackson doesn’t have worry too much about that this time around. Instead he takes us straight to the action by delivering a film that’s more action-packed adventure film than the previous one was. Jackson does a great work once again with his direction and while I can understand why some people has a problem with his this direction and that it can be a little too much at times (especially with the CGI, since there is a lot of it in this one), he still directs with both the same enthusiasm and skill as he did with the previous film and the LORT trilogy. He knows how to make a compelling film that’s both exciting and entertaining. He’s staging of the film’s action set-pieces are fantastic and inventive. Especially the ‘barrel’ scene, which is one of the year’s best and most brilliantly done action sequences (there were a lot of moments during that scene that made my audience cheer. Plus I love that Jackson did some sections of it in one-take).
The returning cast (Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt etc.) all do a great job once again with their roles. Also I like how tries to be more of ensemble piece this time around by giving everyone a moment of screen time, even some are at the expense of others. While some of the Dwarf characters are still underdeveloped (which was one of my major complaints about the first one), I did appreciate that this film at lest tried to developed a couple of them (the character of “Kili”, played by Aidan Turner, is the main one who benefit the most from this). Besides them, the film also introduces us to a whole new batch of characters and the new cast all gave great performances. One of which was Orlando Boom, who returns to reprise his role of “Legolas” from the LOTR trilogy. While he wasn’t given a lot to do in this one (when you think about it, his character didn’t really needed to be included in the film. From what I understand his character wasn’t in the novel at all) but it was still nice to see Bloom return to play his trademark role again, hopefully he’ll have a bit more to do in the 3rd film (seriously, he doesn’t look like he has aged at all since LOTR). Evangeline Lilly (who I’ve been a fan of since LOST) gave a truly bad arse turn Elf warrior “Tauriel” (a character who was created specifically for this film trilogy), I really enjoyed her performance every time she was onscreen. Luke Evans was terrific as “Bard the Bowman”. He brought a lot of sublty and interesting layers to his role that really impressed. His character was definitely one of my favourites in the series so far.
But the stand-out of course, is definitely Benedict Cumberbatch who provided both the voice and motion-capture for the film’s villainous dragon “Smaug”. His scenes in the 3rd action with Marin Freeman’s character “Bilbo Baggins” are some of the best moments in the film and he handles them perfectly with his performance. As a character, “Smaug” is a brilliantly realized CGI creation. Even though he is not 100% real, Cumberbatch still makes him very compelling and threatening. Also the script by Jackson and co-writers Fran Wash, Phillipa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro is solid, the production/costume designs are amazing as always, the score by Howard Shore is terrific, Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography is sublime, the CGI great (again, I can understand why some people would think that there was too much of it but honestly, it didn’t bother me at all) and I love that the film end’s on a cliffhanger (as soon as it finished, I wanted to see the 3rd film right now).
While I do think that this film was an improvement over the 1st chapter, unfortunately I do think it also does suffer from the same flaws that affected that one. Just like the previous film, the pacing can be a rather slow at times and it’s a little too long (funnily enough, the running time for this one is 10 minutes shorter than A UNEXPECTED JOURNEY). Even though I haven’t the novel that series is based on, you definitely can tell that the filmmakers added a lot of extra content to the film to justified into adapted it into a trilogy but I think if Jackson had trimmed some of the unnecessary fat off, I think it would have been a tighter and better paced film (the reason why it was never a problem for me in the LOTR trilogy is that they had three novels worth of material to adapt from). For example, I felt that the romance between “Tauriel” and “Kili” wasn’t really needed. It could have easily have been taken out and it wouldn’t have affected the film at all. Also while the 3D for most part was pretty good, unfortunately it didn’t look as good as it did in the first film. Expect in some of the action scenes of course (interestingly enough, the screening I went to didn’t show the film in the 3D 48FPS format as they did with the first film. Instead they showed it in the regular 24FPS 3D). Also I am a fan Lee Pace, sadly I thought his performance as the Elvenking “Thranduil” a little over-the-top and I felt that some members of the cast were wasted in their roles (Stephen Fry is one that comes to mind).
Overall while THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG isn’t perfect and it does suffer from a lot of flaws, I still had a great time with it nonetheless. It’s one of the 2013’s best blockbuster films and ff you are a fan of the previous HOBBIT film (and as well as the LOTR trilogy), you are definitely going to enjoy this one for sure. Now bring on the 3rd film!
– Bede Jermyn