It’s long – too long by a good hour. And the chroma key (green screen) moments still fly in the face of otherwise sterling production values. Why? Who knows. It deviates from the core story with lumpy stretches of exposition and wholly invents action scenes solely to provide popcorn-chewing moments late in the film. The Hobbit’s second instalment is not nearly perfect, or even as good as the first chapter (read our review here). But The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug succeeds through sheer love for JRR Tolkein’s universe. Again, director Peter Jackson and Weta have crafted something that no other team could quite pull off: a film that succeeds as a heartfelt fantasy blockbuster and a reasonably worthwhile mid-point in the contentiously drawn-out story arc.
Unlike The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) takes a back seat this time. Unlike the original tale, his perspective is somewhat lacking here, replaced by Gandalf (the incomparably watchable Ian McKellen)’s investigative side-quest (tied directly to The Lord of the Rings), as well as Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage)’s personal quest to restore his fallen dwarven homeland. Also thrown into the mix is a classic love triangle between lithe elves Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Peter-Jackson-invented she-elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), and inexplicably delicate dwarf Kili.
It’s all very complicated – which we suppose is why we get three films instead of a more practical one or two; this is Peter Jackson fleshing out the core journey story and leaving his stamp on the series. Can you begrudge him this ego trip? There’s an uncomfortable air of George Lucas to the whole affair, frankly.