The first installment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy is like the undressed raw vegetables the dwarves were served in Rivendell, devoid of flavor and unsatisfying. Thankfully, the epic second chapter, The Desolation of Smaug, delivers the savory meat (or tofu or seitan for the non-carnivores) that thrills and delights the senses.
Gone are the painful digressions into song or the pointless, humorless gags. This film sets its tone—fast-paced danger—from the very moment the opening theme plays against the studio logos and doesn’t relent until the very end.
Though the last film ends fairly happily, declaring that “the worst is behind” the dwarfish company, this film immediately ups the stakes. The opening prologue expertly sets the edge-of-your-seat experience to follow by showcasing that even months before his quest began, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) is already being hunted by an unknown entity. However, Thorin is saved by the Wizard Gandalf (the ever fabulous Ian McKellan), who helps set the quest in motion.
From there, the film is one thrill ride after another as Thorin’s company overcomes orcs, spiders and wood elves. The scenes with the spiders are exciting and showcase Bilbo Baggins’ (the ever expressive Martin Freeman) growing courage… and obsession with a certain ring. Despite the greater number of spiders, the sequence doesn’t feel as dangerous as the Shelob sequence in The Return of the King, but that’s one of the downfalls of prequels—we’ve seen a lot of it before. Still, this time around there are more breathtaking New Zealand vistas than in the first film, creating a sense of wonder and excitement with Middle-earth once more.
The spider attack leads to a confrontation between the dwarves and wood elves of the Green Wood, which brings us to one of the film’s highlights: Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Legolas (reprised by a slightly puffier looking Orlando Bloom).Though Tauriel is not part of any written J.R.R. Tolkien material, her character adds some much needed tenderness in an otherwise intense film. Legolas is a much different elf 60 years prior to the War of the Ring, and Tauriel’s desire to help others in the world plays nicely against his—and his father Thranduil's (Lee Pace) stubbornness. Also at play is her developing relationship with Kili (Aidan Turner, the prettiest dwarf). It's a cute, and thankfully understated love triangle.
After the dwarves escape from the elves by what has been called an amusement park ride (anyone want to raft in a barrel?) the film continues the tight action pace. Gandalf is called away on an urgent mission. Meanwhile, the dwarves struggle to reach the Lonely Mountain before the sun sets on Durin’s Day.
Suffice it to say they reach the mountain after overcoming several more obstacles, leading to Bilbo’s first meeting with the mighty Dragon Smaug (voiced by the leathery in his own right Benedict Cumberbatch).The fight with the Balrog is a mere skirmish compared to the battle with Smaug! One cannot help but be mesmerized by the cunning dragon and get lost in the deep, expansive caverns and halls of Eribor. These moments that compose most of the last third of the film are perhaps the most impressive of Jackson’s five interpretations of Tolkien’s work that we’ve seen so far!
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a fun, action-packed adventure that gives viewers new thrills and delights. While some of the action scenes still run a little too long, they are far more imaginative than the overstuffed spectacle of the first film. Film two is an incredible improvement over An Unexpected Journey and will keep audiences exhilarated for years to come.