The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Dori: "Was that an earthquake?"
Balin: "That, my lad, was a dragon."

This was a thrill ride of a movie. It was exciting and action-packed. It didn't let up from practically the first moment until the last, with only a short lull in the middle to set up the stakes for the rest of the film. In other words, it was pretty spectacular.

Much like The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers I thought this installment was much better film than either trilogy's first installment. It had the right action beats, it took the time to explore the characters more, and it even managed to introduce new ones without detracting from the story overall. Specifically, there were two sequences that I honestly had no real interest in seeing going in, that turned out to be way more than I expected: the Barrel ride, and the confrontation with Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Whatever the trailers have shown, is only a taste of what is actually in the movie.

The barrel sequence was one of the silliest, most intense, most exciting and thrilling action scenes I've seen in a very long time. There was the absurdity of a bunch of grown men in barrels flying down rapids clinging to them to stay alive, yet the action was also visceral and engaging. Even though there was an innate goofiness, that disconnect kind of fell away after a few minutes -- until one of the characters did something outrageous that made me laugh again. Which broke yet again to a feeling of anxiety when their lives were literally hanging in the balance.

The scene with Smaug was even better, though. Smaug is an amazing villain. He's massive and articulate and fully realized as a character instead of just being a big talking monster. I'd almost go so far as to call him my favorite villain in the series thus far, including those in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. (Except for maybe Gollum, but that's really comparing apples to oranges.) They are both truly impressive CGI created creatures that embody the best of those kinds of effects.

Of course the live action performances were also fairly good all around. Ian McKellen as Gandalf was a treat as usual. Bilbo (Martin Freeman) had a slightly diminished role in this one, but the scenes he featured heavily in were some of the best in the movie. Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) came out as one of the big heroes of the piece much like the first movie, but the rest of the Dwarves stood out this time as well. I also got a kick out of seeing Legolas (Orlando Bloom), proving once again that an elf with a bow is totally OP. For me though, it was Evangeline Lilly and her scene stealing elf Tauriel that I was the most impressed with. If she doesn't get a career boost from this film, I'd be deeply surprised.

There was one small issue with story flow, and it occurred roughly halfway in when our heroes ventured into a human village. The tone of the film changed a little then, and the shift from wilderness to civilization was a bit jarring. Yet it did introduce us to Bard (Luke Evans) who turned out to be a very interesting and complex character. Yet at the same time he and the whole sequence of events in his town felt slightly out of place.

In the end, although some of the same issues of bloating and excess details plagued this film much like the first installment, The Desolation of Smaug was very much an improvement. The pacing was better, the action was better, and even the effects were a bit better. I thoroughly loved it, though I do still wonder if this trilogy would've been better as a single film.

3 1/2 out of 4 Dwarven dungeons filled with gold and dragons.


Sooze said...

After being fairly disappointed by the 1st film, I have been really pleased to hear all the positive reviews on this one. I am also happy to hear the good buzz around Evangeline's performance - I think I watched the ads on TV for weeks before I realized it was her...anyway, always good to see a Lost alum getting recognition.

Freeman said...

I liked the first one, but this one was way better in every way. The barrel scene in the rapids was a fantastic action sequence and proved that Bombur is in fact the best Dwarf. I was cracking up when he booked it ahead of everyone when they were being chased by Beorn.

It was great to see the effects of the ring on Bilbo, and I think Martin Freeman did a better job showing it than Elijah Wood did. No offense to Elijah.

The way they animated Smaug was amazing. Even though he was a big talking dragon with a big snouty dragon mouth, he came off as so articulate, sly, and animated. His expression when the gold statue appeared before him was great. Whoever the effects guys are for this movie, they're doing a bang-up job.

I could've did without the romance subplot with Tauriel and Kili because it was so eye-roll inducing that the one beardless Dwarf in all of Middle-Earth managed to snag a love interest. And even though Legolas' action scenes were friggin' awesome, he was just sorta scene steally, especially since he wasn't even in the book. Would it have been so hard to just have the Dwarves that were there be the ones that held off the Black Ops Orcs?

Luke Evans was good as Bard. It was nice that they gave Bard to do because I don't remember him doing much in the book besides *spoiler*. They set him up with the skill to do it and with the backstory to justify it. His look though, I couldn't stop thinking of Inigo Montoya.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm just being cranky, but I actually did not like the Smaug bits. Don't get me wrong, Smaug was amazing. He was huge and gorgeous and terrifying. But I did not like how they fundamentally changed Bilbo's interaction with Smaug. I always loved how Bilbo used his wits to get out of his meeting with Smaug alive. In the book Bilbo, knowing he had no chance against the dragon, stays out of sight and only talks to Smaug. He is clever and manages to get out alive, but accidentally reveals Laketown's involvement. The dwarves never come to rescue Bilbo and there certainly isn't a battle. I just dislike how a scene that highlighted Bilbo's cleverness in all the titles and his flattery of Smaug was turned into a delay tactic for the action scenes. (And molten gold. Really?)

Also, it made Smaug less impressive. Instead of being too terrible to fight, Smaug cannot manage to kill even one of the dwarves. He took over an entire kingdom and slaughtered hundreds but he cannot manage 9 dwarves and 1 hobbit? I just thought it was an unnecessary change that made Smaug less threatening and Bilbo less awesome.

However, I loved Bard, the Master of Laketown and (surprisingly) I liked Tauriel. The thing with Kili was...bizarre, but I liked her character. Smaug was GORGEOUS, and the spiders were insanely creepy. Anytime Gandalf was on the screen I was happy, and it was fun to see early Legolas. So, essentially, I enjoyed the movie until the whole Smaug business become the log that broke the camel's back. I was ok with the changes until the Smaug stuff.


Brian H said...

Apparently I'm in the minority with this, but I really didn't like the barrel sequence. I guess what I was hoping for was a movie that was, I don't know, clever and quaint and cute and hobbity, and what we got was quite a lot of silly, campy, and slapstick? Like they hired the fight choreographer from Xena (especially with the guided careening barrel and the standing-on-of-heads).

And entirely agree with Mandy about the changes to the Smaug confrontation. Couldn't we have a *little* bit of sneaking? I mean, they already turned the troll-camp into yet another big fight... (still bitter about that.)

On the other hand, Tauriel was great, and I actually liked her thing with Kili. Thought it was really cute. Also, the spiders were just how I imagined them, which made me extremely happy. And the Laketown sets were great. And Smaug, especially in 3D, was absolutely beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this lovely review! I watched the film last night and really really liked it! I was surprised by how much I liked the character of Tauriel and I thought Eveangeline Lilly did a very good job (perhaps it's because I'm a girl but I found it refreshing to have a strong female character amongst all those men actors!).

I thought Smaug was beautiful and terrific but as someelse said I was slitghly disappointed that Bilbo's wits were not as obvious as they are in the book during his scenes with Smaug. But still, a wonderful adaptation, acting and special affects all round!! And I looooved the barrel scene and poor Bombur! :)

TheShadowKnows said...

It's a good flick. But it only bears the most rudimentary resemblance to the book at this point.

Mark Greig said...

People actually clapped and cheered when I went to see this tonight. I have never seen that happen once in my life. English people just don't do that.