The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Directed by: Peter Jackson Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch Running Time: 2 hrs 41 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: December 12, 2013
PLOT: A hobbit named Bilbo (Freeman) travels with dwarves to their stolen land of Erebor, which has been taken over by a dragon named Smaug (Cumberbatch).
WHO'S IT FOR? Skeptics of the first Hobbit to see if they can be won over, and anyone else who enjoyed Peter Jackson's previous Lord of the Rings movies.
Watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey last year was exactly like re-reading a long re-written prologue to a short story you already saw the 71-minute animated film of in fifth grade. It inspired skepticism more than excitement about a second trilogy from the guy who had already made a great batch of films, and rightly so. The grumbles from the project's inception concerning how Peter Jackson was going to make three films out of one book got even louder, and with a bit more outrage. It didn't help that the film was shown with the infamous HFR (High Frame Rate), in which comparisons to video game cut-scenes and soap opera cinematography abounded.
It is with an exhale of equal relief and pleasure then, that I state that such skepticism is for naught; now that Jackson has put this journey into full gear and shown its dragon, all has returned. Relax and enjoy, mainstream geeks, as with The Desolation of Smaug, Jackson is now getting to the point.
Sure, the film stays in the same "nerdy" manner (a word I used to an offensive amount in my previous review), but the action is streamlined within all of the exposition, which still can be presented in a second language, and often with creatures that have funny ears. Nothing about the mythology changes except that it moves forward at a great pace, articulated with of-course wonderful graphics and especially impressive set design.
The Desolation of Smaug returns to the excitement of watching his previous Lord of the Rings films unfold, in terms of the refined visual spectacle that he presents to audiences in a way that almost spoils them (how often do we get to see fantasy filmmaking as sharp as this?). The experience of Jackson's take on Tolkien is cozy once again, taking viewers from one energetic sequence in a captivating set-piece to the next one, and so on, and so on, until a cliffhanger that ends on a lower note than cliffhangers have led us to expect.
The Desolation of Smaug is simple entertainment in a grand scheme, where the direction is clear, but the imagination does not slack by any means. It is exciting to see just how Jackson and is co-writers engineer their action sequences, pumped with as much PG-13 inter-species decapitation as possible, which are cut nicely with close-calls and visuals as fluid as barrels rolling through a tumultuous river.
In this bid for blockbuster adventure, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has some cheaper ends, its desire to market action figures to boys and girls exposed with comic obviousness in certain parts. Orlando Bloom is brought back into the franchise to be Super Cool Extreme Elf Who Surfs His Way Back Into Our Hearts, and does so without ever proving he is more than a tool. (Bloom also has some of the film's kitschiest dialogue, including "If [that was me sneaking up behind you], you'd be dead.") He shares a love triangle with a new "she-elf" played by Evangeline Lilly, who isn't the anti-Black Widow in The Avengers one might have hoped she would be. She does have comically exceptional timing though, giving Steve Zahn's conveniently-used cop in Dallas Buyers Club a run for his appearance money. The film's largest debut (ha ha!) is of course good ol' boy Benedict Cumberbatch, populating villain marquee space once again as this movie's title dragon, a sassy goldclaw that proves to be one of the few villains whose chattiness actually makes for believable tension, instead of obvious exposition.
In terms of how Jackson was going to pull of a trilogy such as this, it should have been guessed that he would go the route of the previous Lord of the Rings story — to make it more than just the tale of a short non-man with hairy feet trying to run an errand, but a story of rebellion, revolution, etc. This latter part is brought together by more scenes with Richard Armitage's tough dwarf Thorin, whose importance is expressed in the beginning of this second film to an extent that could save anyone from needing to revisit the first. Joining him is a new character from former Fast and Furious 6 guy Luke Evans, who is primed to lead the charge and share the responsibilities that Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn did single-sword-edly with Lord of the Rings.
With The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug gearing up to a comfort and genre ingenuity of spectacle that nearly matches a Justin Lin Fast and Furious movie (though not as good as Furious 6, let's not get ahead of ourselves), Jackson's life-running film franchise regains stable ground without having to change its mojo. Numerous characters with decent on-screen time are still impossible to identify by name as opposed to body hair or fatness, full sequences in a blockbuster movie involve made-up languages as spoken by non-human things, and we are once again rooting for a short pug-nosed man to not die in the most fantastical of circumstances.
Like a piece of nostalgia for the experience of watching the previous trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is nearly as exciting as the previous Lord of the Rings movies; it takes you there, and back again.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10