Review - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Like everyone else, I have been waiting a year for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Since Peter Jackson teased us with Smaug's eye opening at the end of An Unexpected Journey, I have been itching to see the next part. 

As a massive fan of Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I was excited to return to Middle Earth once again. An Unexpected Journey did a great job in setting events in motion for a new trilogy but The Desolation of Smaug really ups the pace and just doesn't let you go from start to finish.

The Desolation of Smaug picks things up straight after the events of the first film, after an initial flashback. We find Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the Company of Dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) continuing their quest to The Lonely Mountain to reclaim the Dwarves home, Erebor, from the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).

With the pack of Orcs, led by Azog (Manu Bennett) still hot on their trail, Bilbo and the others must journey through perilous new terrain and encounter dangerous threats to reach their goal. Gandalf himself splits from the group to go in search of the Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch), a sorcerer with an army of Orcs in hand at Dol Guldur. 

While I enjoyed An Unexpected Journey, the film didn't really move along at a great pace. There were not too many action scenes until the final act of the film but where An Unexpected Journey was lacking in action, The Desolation of Smaug makes up for it. The film just seems to flow a lot smoother.

Right from the off the audience are thrown straight in at the deep end. Bilbo and the Dwarves enter Mirkwood, a mysterious and diseased forest that will play tricks on your mind. Here they encounter a nest of giant spiders and the Wood Elves, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) included. The spiders will more than likely appear in the nightmares of small children around the world but it is a great way to start the film.

However, without a doubt the stand-out action set-piece is the barrel escape Bilbo and the Dwarves embark on from the Wood Elves. Now I have seen a lot of action films in my life but this just had me breathless. Peter Jackson gave us moments in The Lord of the Rings that live on in the memory and this is right up there with them.

Having the Dwarves riding the river rapids in barrels would have been exciting on its own but add in the fact that the Dwarves, Elves and Orcs are all fighting at the same time and you have one hell of a ride on your hands. The whole scene was just magnificent.

There was one scene in The Desolation of Smaug that I was waiting for in particular though. That of course was the appearance of Smaug himself. He does not disappoint one bit. Brought to life through a motion-capture and vocal performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, Smaug is a truly wonderful creation. My worries were instantly wiped clear from my mind.

Cumberbatch was great as the villain in Star Trek Into Darkness earlier this year and he is once again on top form. He voices Smaug with a mix of arrogance and malice that makes him worth the lengthy wait. Bilbo and Smaug's first meeting is a scene up there with the scene between Bilbo and Gollum in An Unexpected Journey

Smaug catches Bilbo amongst his treasure

Another difference between this and the first film is the lesser amount of character development. An Unexpected Journey was always going to be the film in the series that spent more time on this as it was an introduction to the characters and had to set everything up but it seems that The Desolation of Smaug slightly ignores any room for character development.

There is a moment early on amongst the spider attack in Mirkwood that shows Bilbo being driven to great lengths to protect the ring he found. It is a vicious attack by Bilbo that shows the ring is changing him yet we don't see anything else like this throughout the rest of the film. I am hoping that we do see more of it in the final instalment.

Not that there is no character development at all though. They decided to include the character Tauriel, a Wood Elf, played by Evangeline Lilly. She is a strong female character that the film would be missing otherwise. With Tauriel, a love story is sort of forced upon us. She takes a liking to Kili (Aidan Turner), one of the Dwarves, but also has Legolas interested in her. It is a story arc that adds very little to the film.

The Hobbit films are just like The Lord of the Rings when it comes to the cast. A strong and talented cast is needed for an epic series like this and Peter Jackson has more than enough talent at his disposal here. Martin Freeman as Bilbo and Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman were the stand-out performers in my eyes. 

The special effects team should take a bow as well with their work on The Desolation of Smaug. Without their work we would be without Smaug and great scenes such as the barrel escape. My only piece of advice would be to not rely on CGI for everything.

When I say that I am talking about the glaringly obvious pale Orcs that stick out like a sore thumb. With The Lord of the Rings, apart from the obvious, most of the Orcs were done practically using make-up. Some of them are done like that here but when you have two or three entirely CGI characters amongst them it kind of gets a bit distracting.

Finally, the ending to The Desolation of Smaug just had me wanting more right there and then. If An Unexpected Journey ended with a tease then just wait until you see the end to this instalment. I will be first in line to see The Hobbit: There and Back Again next year.

The Desolation of Smaug is an epic adventure that once again proves Peter Jackson to be the king of fantasy filmmaking.



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