Author JRR Tolkien’s fantastical world of Middle Earth is once again brought to life by director Peter Jackson in the second instalment of his Hobbit trilogy.
The Desolation of Smaug continues the ongoing adventures of Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the Grey and the company of dwarves, as well as introducing a host of new characters and some familiar faces, too.
While The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (the first film of the trilogy) was criticised for its length and overtly extensive exposition, this sequel improves the pacing with some memorable action sequences. It is a far more complete movie-going experience.
The main story focuses on the quest of the dwarves to reclaim their kingdom under the mountain. Along the way the film introduces a multitude of friends and foe in different locations – from woodland elves who live hidden in a deep, dark forest, to giant spiders and orcs, to a town built on a lake and, ultimately, the dwarf kingdom under the mountain where the fearsome Smaug awaits.
It’s a lot to take in, even at 161 minutes running time, but enjoyable nonetheless.
The strong cast all deliver fine performances. Martin Freeman as Bilbo conveys the mischief and charm of the character from the book. Ian McKellen (the iconic wizard Gandalf) and Richard Armitage (dwarf king Thorin) both bring great charisma and weight to their roles. Stephen Fry (the Master of Laketown), Luke Evans (Bard) and Evangeline Lilly (the elven warrior Tauriel) are all welcome additions to the trilogy, while we also see the return of a familiar face in Orlando Bloom as the elf Legolas – a younger and colder version of his Lord of the Rings character.
The real star of the show, though, is the mighty dragon under the mountain. Visually, the team at New Zealand’s Weta Workshop has delivered once again – Smaug is a behemoth who is, at times, terrifying to behold. He is voiced by British actor Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock and Star Trek: Into Darkness), who breathes real menace and fear into the huge winged beast.
Fans of Tolkien will enjoy the many geek Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the film, including a great little cameo from the director. And the action sequences are edge-of-your-seat fun, including the hilarious fight involving orcs, dwarves and barrels.
Jackson once again delves deeper into Tolkien’s rich universe by adding events from Tolkien’s other books to augment the Hobbit story. These extra subplots pre-empt well-known events from his original Lord of the Rings film trilogy; some may question whether this is simply more padding, while others (like myself), will love delving deeper into Middle Earth folklore.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is not only a worthy sequel but also a fantastic, fun spectacle in its own right – one that sits well alongside Jackson’s other Tolkien films. It has this fan eagerly awaiting the third and final film next year.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opens in cinemas on Boxing Day.
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