I’m what I like to think of as a casual Lord of the Rings fan. I enjoy the stories and the world they take place in, but am hardly as dedicated to them as I know some people are. With that said, I really didn’t enjoy The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as much as I wanted to. I found it to be far too long and, quite honestly, was a little bored with it.
Thankfully, The Desolation of Smaug couldn’t have had a more different effect on me. It was an exciting, uproariously good time that had me so invested that I didn’t check the time once. There were parts of it that didn’t need to be there of course, but considering my lower expectations, The Desolation of Smaug completely won me over.
This is the adventure I was looking to find in the first film, and despite running at almost three-hours in length, the plot kept things moving at a steady pace and always made sure you had something exciting to look at. There are slow moments, but they more evenly spaced out and give you time to catch your breath after the intensity of the many action scenes.
One of the best improvements The Desolation of Smaug made was with its characters. They were actually given room to breathe this time around, which gave the movie the chance to show just how colorful its cast is, and I was finally able to establish a connection with the characters that made it so much easier to get invested in their story.
The most noticeable example of this is with the dwarves. In the first movie, only Thorin was given any room to stand out, but this time, the spotlight is spread amongst them much better. Thorin still gets the focus here, as is expected, considering he is one of the primary protagonists, but I really appreciated the chance to get to know the rest of the group.
Richard Armitage plays Thorin really well and he truly does have a great presence on screen, but I found him somewhat hard to root for. This changes towards the ending, when we finally get to see him come out of his shell, but until then, his cold, almost uncaring demeanor made it hard to care for him, and I found myself far more invested in the stories of the other characters.
Such as the elves, for example, who I absolutely loved seeing in action again. It was awesome seeing Legolas, and Orlando Bloom seemed just as natural in the role now as he ever did in the LOTR films. But its Evangeline Lilly’s new character Tauriel who stole the spotlight for me, and seeing her take on an entire horde of orcs was one of my favorite parts of the film.
While her character wasn’t in the book, she fits in with the cast really well, and carries herself with such a striking presence that she often outshines her male counterparts. Her scenes with Legolas are especially great, and their chemistry, both on and off the battlefield, felt natural and fun.
However, one of the few problems I have with the film is the half-cooked romance between Tauriel and the dwarf Kili. It was tacked on, and felt both unneeded and unnatural, which is a shame because both characters were great on their own and their so-called romance added little to either of their individual characters.
Besides that, however, the plot was very effective in moving things along at a brisk pace and it made sure things didn’t get boring or repetitive. You can actually feel the urgency of the plot, and we finally get to see why reaching The Lonely Mountain is so important to the characters. and it all builds up to a climax that pays off in a very big way.
Indeed, in a film filled with riveting set pieces, including the much talked about barrel sequence that’s just as wonderful as it’s been made out to be, The Desolation of Smaug ends on the highest note possible and delivers what might be the most nail-biting climax the series has seen yet.
Yes, I’m talking about Smaug here, and if you have even the smallest bit of worry over how well he’d make the jump to the big screen, you can put it to rest. Smaug is every bit magnificent as we imagined he’d be, and somehow managed to surpass even my high expectations. It really does have to be seen to be believed.
The first time you get to see him in full is one of the most jaw-dropping sights of the past year, and he more than lives up to the hype. He feels strikingly real, and every breath he takes, every word he speaks, will quite literally reverberate throughout the entire room, leaving you on the very edge of your seat.
Benedict Cumberatch was probably the best possible choice for the character, and he gives Smaug such a powerfully menacing voice that it will send shivers down your spine. His scenes with fellow Sherlock star Martin Freeman are especially great, and their tense exchanges are some of the best moments in the film.
As great as Smaug was though, it really was Martin Freeman’s Bilbo that stole the show for me. Freeman is a brilliant actor, and he gives Bilbo a great amount of depth here and demonstrates just how conflicted the character is under his more easy-going appearance. He’s the stand-out actor in the cast to be sure, and capably carries much of the film’s weight on his shoulders.
I wish we had gotten to see more of him interact with Ian McKellan though, but unfortunately Gandalf spent most of the film’s running time on his own, which proved to be interesting in its own right, but it did limit him a bit and I look forward to seeing him (hopefully) return to the group in the next movie.
The Desolation of Smaug surprised me in a lot of ways. It ended a little too abrupt for my tastes, but it still delivered where it needed to, and even managed to give us some of the most memorable action set-pieces of the past year. It’s not perfect, but I more than enjoyed my time with it and anxiously await to see where the story goes next.