The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a fast-paced film and an improvement over its predecessor. The film doesn’t drag at all even though the running time is merely nine minutes less than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. There is action throughout including terrifying Spiders, more battles with Orcs, and an escape from captivity in empty barrels from the Wood-elves while braving raging waters and arrows.
Once again Martin Freeman is in his element as the diminutive Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. His scene with Smaug the Dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) is brilliant with much of their dialogue lifted from the novel. Smaug steals the show (and the excuse for a second viewing of this film) not only with great CGI effects, but with the voice stylings of Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch also lends his voice to the mysterious Necromancer, whose showdown with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is another must watch scene in this film. Other new characters in this film that appear in the novel include Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), the master of Laketown (Stephen Fry), and Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt).
The film tries hard to be like the Lord of the Rings films. The first scene in Bree where Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) is having a meal in a familiar tavern while looking over his shoulder at two unsavory characters staring at him is eerily reminiscent of a scene in The Fellowship of the Ring. Much more blatant is another scene where Kili (Aidan Turner) suffers a leg wound after being hit with a Morgul arrow (does this exist?) from an Orc. Sickened with delirium in Laketown, Kili’s condition worsens so Bofur (James Nesbitt) tries to look for some athelas (or kingsfoil, a healing herb) before Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a Wood-elf of Peter Jackson’s invention, tends to his wounds. Substitute Kili for Frodo, Bofur for Sam, and Tauriel for Arwen (yes Aragorn tends Frodo’s wounds with the same herb, but the light around Tauriel invokes images of Arwen over Frodo) and you get the idea. By the way, what is a mere Orc doing with a Morgul anything to begin with? The inclusion of Legolas (Orlando Bloom) though brings some continuity with the previous trilogy. He is the son of Thranduil (Lee Pace), the Elvenking, so even if he wasn’t in the novel, his appearance in the movie as one of the Wood-elves is not so far-fetched.
Another problem with this film (and the trilogy) is the character of Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett). He gets passing mention in the novel when Gandalf tells Thorin, “Your grandfather Thrór was killed, you remember, in the mines of Moria by Azog the Goblin.” Thorin responds by saying, “Curse his name, yes.” The killing of Thrór led to The War of the Dwarves and Orcs culminating in the Battle of Azanulbizar where Azog was killed by Thorin’s cousin, Dáin Ironfoot. This is spelled out in detail in the Appendices behind The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Azog’s son Bolg leads the Orc armies in The Battle of the Five Armies, but Azog has no part in this story. Jackson brings Azog back to add more action and hardship for Thorin and his Company, but I can only wonder if it wasn’t for this added story arc, would there be a trilogy at all? Two films would’ve been enough.
The Desolation of Smaug is an epic, action-packed film that leaves you at the edge of your seat and yet leaves you with the annoyed feeling that another film will be released in another 12 months and the long wait that comes with it. What this film does do also is make the viewer want to read The Hobbit again, all 365 pages of it, in all its original glory without the added fat or fluff.