Movie Review: The Desolation of Smaug

desolation of smaugRelease Date: December 13 2013
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage

After successfully crossing over (and under) the Misty Mountains, Thorin and Company must seek aid from a powerful stranger before taking on the dangers of Mirkwood Forest–without their Wizard. If they reach the human settlement of Lake-town it will be time for the hobbit Bilbo Baggins to fulfill his contract with the dwarves. The party must complete the journey to Lonely Mountain and burglar Baggins must seek out the Secret Door that will give them access to the hoard of the dragon Smaug. And, where has Gandalf got off to? And what is his secret business to the south? synopsis from

It’s finally here! Part two of the Hobbit trilogy. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the pre-screening in Toronto last night and thought I should share my initial thoughts about the film. I know the first movie was met with some mixed reviews, but honestly I really liked it. I love adventure stories and I don’t mind if they move at a slower pace. However, if unlike me, you thought the first movie was too slow then fear not! Peter Jackson has picked up the pace significantly with this next installment.

The Desolation of Smaug is pretty much all action. Running from Orcs, being attacked by giant spiders, to the final confrontation with the dragon and everything in between. Our motley crew of dwarfs is constantly on the move. This movie is much faster paced and it flies by. I could hardly believe two and a half hours had passed with the credits started to roll. However the increase in action sequences is not without its costs.

desolation of smaug

And in this case that cost is solid character development. There is so much time spent fighting and running and barrel riding that we barely get to spend anytime with the characters we met in the first film, let alone with the new characters introduced. At times it felt like more time was spent on the different ways Legolas is able to kill Orcs than the actual quest itself. The biggest problem with this lack of character development is the interchangeable nature of the dwarfs. Other than Thorin, Balin and Kili I couldn’t tell you a single thing about the rest of the company. They feel ornamental – only there to help complete over-complicated attack sequences, or literally as blocks for Legolas to stand upon while he fires some more arrows.

desolation of smaug

But any frustration I feel about the two-dimensional dwarfs is nothing compared to my feelings regarding Tauriel. I like Evangeline Lilly. I think she’s an extremely talented actress. And when I first heard that Tauriel would be in the movie I was excited. I don’t know what Tolkien had against women in Middle Earth but it’s my least favourite thing about his writing. Tauriel is pretty much the only female character in the whole Hobbit trilogy. So it actually broke my heart a little that they wrote her story so horribly.

desolation of smaug

A little background: Tauriel is one of the elves of Mirkwood. Like Legolas. In fact she and Legolas are friends, or at the very least respected colleagues. She is the captain of Thranduil’s (the Elf King) guards and when she first appears on-screen she is badass. I had hoped she would be this trilogy’s Éowyn. But then she meets Kili and a weird, nonsensical love story is born. They literally have one conversation about the stars and she falls head over heels for him. She’s so far gone in fact that she abandons her friends, family and responsibilities to go chasing after him. She leaves the home she has lived in for hundreds of years because she has turned into a lovesick puppy. Legolas, being a bit of a puppy himself, follows her but she eventually abandons him too – leaving him to fight an entire pack of Orcs by himself without even telling him that she wasn’t coming. What started out as a great character with lots of potential became one of the biggest disappoints of the film.

Now despite all my complaints, I actually enjoyed the majority of the film. Martin Freeman was excellent as always. His mannerisms are spot on and he manages to be both serious and comedic at the same time – not an easy feat to pull off. There were also a few secondary characters that really stood out. Most notably Bard and Thranduil. Luke Evans does a fantastic job as Bard – a man who dreams of a better life but who is also crippled by the fear of those around him and his desire to keep his children safe. I found myself cheering for him, more often than I did for Thorin (who I often find selfish and just plain rude).

desolation of smaug

Thranduil on the other hand is not a character I admire. But he is an interesting one. His motivations are extremely self-serving, and he is quite arrogant, but his kingdom and the elves within it add an interesting element to the story. Lee Pace does an amazing job conveying how haughty and self-righteous this character is. (Made even more impressive considering how nervous and bumbling his character on Pushing Daisies was). I’m excited to see how he factors in to the third installment.

desolation of smaug

Finally, the visuals were astounding. If you do go see this movie, see it in 3D. It looks amazing and you won’t regret it. Everything felt so life-like, I truly felt as though I had been transported right into Middle Earth. Smaug was particularly impressive. I wondered going in, just how much we would actually see of the dragon and Peter Jackson did not let us down. The exchange between Bilbo and Smaug is one of the best (if not the best) scenes in the entire film. Smaug is both terrifying and witty. You want Bilbo to run for his life but you also want him to keep the dragon talking – and not just to hear more of Benedict Cumberbatch’s gorgeous voice!

desolation of smaug

Overall The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a great action movie. The writers have clearly worked hard to incorporate more from Tolkien’s notes to flesh out the story. This isn’t just the Hobbit – it’s the story of Middle Earth and how the events of The Lord of the Rings came to be. And this is both a blessing and a curse. As a prequel series I think it works really well, but as its own independent story it’s not what I expected. The entire film is extremely well acted and beautiful to watch. It’s worth seeing but don’t expect Lord of the Rings, it’s not quite there.

  1. Wow- I am so glad to hear you enjoyed this movie and that the visuals were incredible. I love Tolkien, so I am dying to see this one. I am glad that, overall, it didn’t disappoint. Thanks for the review!

  2. I’m glad to hear that the movie was really enjoyable, I can’t wait to go see it! Oddly enough I don’t even remember Tauriel from the book, I think she might be the only character I don’t remember actually. Thanks for sharing his thoughts

  3. We saw the movie last weekend, and I really enjoyed it. I thought your comments were spot-on. I don’t like that Kili and Fili are separated from the other dwarves (they aren’t in the book), nor that it means they are there in Dale with the Bard. Everyone was barely hospitable in this movie, so grudging, it meant some of the camaraderie and spirit was lost. And you are so right, Thorin was downright rude much of the time.

    Smaug – glorious. Bilbo – perfect. Like you, I wish there had been more interplay between the dwarves, and much less elf-fighting. I do expect that now I know what the movie is, it will quickly become a favourite to watch as the first one is whenever we are sick. They are well done, aren’t they?

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