Part two of the Hobbit Trilogy picks up right where An Unexpected Journey left off. After passing through the Misty Mountains within an inch of their lives, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the dwarven company continue their trek to the Lonely Mountain. But first they must enlist the help of a powerful ally to survive the dangers that lurk within Mirkwood forest, travel to Esgaroth upon the Long Lake and locate the hidden entrance that leads to the treasure trove of fearsome dragon Smaug. If they do find a way inside the Lonely Mountain, they must get the Arkenstone without the assistance of their Wizard. Bilbo must prove to himself worthy of being the party's burglar or all hope is lost. The Desolation of Smaug serves up one of the key events of the Hobbit –and here is how it played out.
If you weren't too happy that the previous movie lasted nearly three hours, then brace yourself for The Desolation of Smaug's 161-minute run time. Don't worry, we guarantee time will fly this time around. No, it's not just because of Legolas (Orlando Bloom) popping up. Although die-hard fan girls will be inclined to disagree, Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) is the ray of light in this film.
After seeing a sneak peek of the titular dragon at the end of the first movie, we finally see him in all his CGI glory. Just to give you an idea how much of a labor of love this was for Weta Digital, it takes a single processor one week to render a single scale from the menacing dragon. Thankfully, the folks at Weta Digital have a slew of servers and multi-processor machines to make the often-evil, sometimes-humorous villain look his best in record time. Coupled with Cumberbatch's brilliant acting to provide motion capture for the facial animations and you've got yourself one of the most believable fantasy creatures in recent memory.
More Screentime for Side Characters
Not to be outshone by the great Smaug, newcomer Evangeline Lilly plays a terrific Tauriel. She's not all looks, thankfully. This Silvan elf has the agility to match Legolas, killing orcs like there's no tomorrow. On the down side, she was written in as some sort of catalyst for dwarf/elf disagreements and the bizarre love triangle between her, overly-jealous Legolas and Kili may leave audiences with a bad taste in their mouth.
Thankfully, there are memorable moments which more than make up for Jackson's foray into fanfiction territory. Our favorite would have to be the barrel scene, which manages to be deliciously over-the-top, silly and chaotic all at the same time. The panicky interaction between the companions was priceless. It served as a perfect reminder that unlike The Lord of the Rings, There and Back Again is a children's book -- it appeals to that part of us that craves for a heavy dose of whimsy.
Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) is also worth a mention. For those unfamiliar with the character, this family man has been trying to keep Laketown afloat in more ways than one. He holds the key to beating the fearsome dragon, which is a godsend for Bilbo and his companions. Showcasing humility and love for his family while saving the day, Evans plays Bard wonderfully. He keeps the character human despite all the heroics.
Tolkien Purists Should Sit This Out
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug isn't perfect of course, but it is a vast improvement from the first movie. It was still shot with HFR (High Frame Rate) technology, which still suffers from the same "see every single leaf" issue as the first movie but is generally accepted now that the controversy has died down. It also has a few cheesy action scenes which seem to draw inspiration from classic kung fu films, but there are noteworthy scenes that focus on Thorin and company. Smaug and Tauriel are interesting characters for vastly different reasons. The former looks to be a contender for most epic CGI beast of all time and the latter offers a fine leading lady for the tale, if not for the arbitrary love story.