Here it is, the next part of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy. As I stated last year, I really enjoyed An Unexpected Journey and was really looking forward to this film to see which parts of the book would be included and how the new additions to the film would work. Whilst I found the film to be entertaining as a whole, I don't think it works as well as An Unexpected Journey on a story level.
The plot of the film picks up right where the first one left off, Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin and the company of dwarfs are heading towards the Lonely Mountain to reclaim Erebor whilst escaping from a group of orcs hunting them. Along the way, Gandalf goes off with Radagast the Brown to find out what's happening at Dol Guldur and the others go into Mirkwood and Laketown, encountering Legolas, Bard and a new character for the film, Tauriel. With the plot, when the focus is on Bilbo and the dwarfs and the sub-plot with Gandalf, the film moves along really well but slows down a lot when focused on Bard, Legolas and Tauriel. The addition of the Gandalf and Legolas/Tauriel sub-plots to the film help fill in some of the gaps in the book explaining where Gandalf went to, as well as providing some linking material between this and Lord of the Rings. Some other elements, such as Thorin's obsession with the Arkenstone are clearly meant, in the film, to draw parallels with Lord of the Rings and it remains unclear just how important all of the sub-plots will be as a whole until the next film comes out. That said, there were a few times when I though the film was going on a bit too long, mainly the stuff with the elves. It feels like Tauriel was added to the film just to be a love interest and provide more action scenes and I wish some scenes with the elves were shortened to make way for more scenes at Dol Guldur. There are also some parts with Smaug at the end of the film that I felt went on a bit too long but I can overlook this more for reasons I'll explain later. But, when the film gets moving, it really gets moving and there are a lot of really fun moments throughout the film, mainly the barrel scene, along with some really intense moments.
The cast of the film are excellent as well. All the returning cast members are just as good here as they were in the last film with Richard Armitage getting a lot more character stuff to do as Thorin and Martin Freeman really coming into his own as Bilbo, despite all his character development happening in the first film. Of the new cast members, the scene stealer by far is Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug. His powerful voice really fits the character and his movements as Smaug, provided by motion capture, are excellent and his performance is what helped me forgive the fact that the Smaug scenes go on too long. Luke Evans does some good work as Bard whilst Orlando Bloom looks so happy to be back as Legolas and there's a lot of character development for Legolas to both explain the initial animosity between Legolas and Gimli in Lord of the Rings (with one bit being the biggest laugh in the film) and a softening of the character between this film and Lord of the Rings. Evangeline Lily as Tauriel does some good acting and nails all the action scenes despite the character being pretty badly written. Out of the new cast members, the one I wanted to see more of was Stephen Fry as the Master of Lake-Town, it looks like he's having a great time in the film and there are some funny moments with him but I feel he's a bit wasted in this film. I think though that he'll have a lot more scenes in the next film.
On a technical level the film is great. The action scenes are incredibly well directed, especially the barrel scene, Smaug is an incredible CGI creation with all the detail of each scale being clearly seen on the screen and all of the practical sets are incredible pieces of work. That said, some of the CG can be a bit jarring at some points in the film and the fact that so much CG is used for some of the sets does feel like a bit of a cop-out compared to the excellent practical sets in the Lord of the Rings films.
Overall, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a really good film. Whilst the problems with the film are more noticeable than they were in the first film and some of the added plot points don't work as well as intended, when the film works it really works with the cast all putting in great performances and the main plot with Bilbo and the dwarfs still being really compelling, especially when Smaug gets involved in the film.
My Rating: 4/5