The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Movie Review
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is three hours long, has no beginning and no ending, but a few memorable action sequences and a thing called Smaug keep the middle act of Peter Jackson's forced trilogy fast-paced and entertaining. It's also proof that splitting the story into three movies was not a good idea.
The Desolation of Smaug picks up where the last movie left off, which is somewhere in between the Shire and the Smoky Mountain. Jackson makes no attempt to set the stage other than to remind us that a bunch of dwarves are traveling to the mountain to reclaim their kingdom. It took me a good half an hour to get back into the flow of the story, and to realize that pretty much everything that happens between the beginning of the first movie and the introduction of Smaug - with exception to Bilbo's discovery of the ring - doesn't matter.
Jackson has added a lot of extra subplots and detail to J.R.R. Tolkien's otherwise simple novel to justify the running time. There's a reason why Tolkien left most of this stuff in appendixes, or never thought of it in the first place; most of it is forgettable fluff. The story jumps from one action scene to the next with thin plot points and weak character developments holding them together.
The addition of Legolas (Orlando Bloom, resuming his role) is surprisingly bland as he, not pitted against the rich characters in The Lord of the Rings, doesn't have much to do but shoot people with arrows. The only interesting new character is Tauriel, played with elfish accuracy by Evangeline Lilly, who appears to have been created to justify Legolas's continued presence as well as add some romantic intrigue for one of the dwarves - conveniently the only one who doesn't look like a dwarf.
The good news... Peter Jackson is a pretty awesome director when he wants to be.
Despite the film's shortcomings, he largely makes up for them with some imaginative and memorable action scenes. The river/barrel chase/fight is pretty absurd, but also absurdly entertaining. A scene with a bunch of angry spiders is harrowing.
But it's the introduction of Smaug in the final third of the movie that makes The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug worth it. Thanks to some stellar visual effects and a blistering exchange between the dragon (voiced perfectly by Benedict Cumberbatch) and Bilbo (Martin Freeman), every moment with Smaug is thrilling, captivating and downright fun. The interspersed storylines - one fleshing out the human character of Bard (Luke Evans, who looks too much like Orlando Bloom) and another involving a battle between Gandalf and Sauron - are a bit of a mess, but even they can't take away the awesomeness that is Smaug.
Then the movie ends mid-scene with no closure whatsoever. What. The. F**k.
Be prepared for that. Just as the story is finally hitting its stride (six hours in), Peter Jackson pulls the plug, wags his finger and says come back next year for another $15. F**k you, Peter Jackson.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is no The Lord of the Rings, but we already knew that. It isn't a sweeping epic, no matter how much Peter Jackson wants it to be. But it is a legitimately entertaining action movie - and that's what it is, nothing more, nothing less - that gets better as it progresses.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.