Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
Genre: Adventure/ Fantasy
After surviving their trek beneath the misty mountains Bilbo (Freeman), Gandalf (McKellen), Thorin (Armitage) and the company of dwarves continue on their quest towards their homeland of Erebor and claiming it back. Gandalf himself is forced to take on a different quest where he will discover a lurking evil that could threaten all of Middle-earth. With no wizard, they must carry on through the dark unforgiving forest of Mirkwood which is the home of fearless and dangerous elves (and giant spiders) and through to the settlement Lake Town, as well as survive the Orcs that continue to pursue them with only one intention. If managing to travel safely through these dangerous places and making it to Erebor, there in waiting is the fearsome and deadly giant dragon known as Smaug.
Inevitably TDOS offers plenty for the cynics to go for. It may be overlong, over stuffed and stretched out too much according to some. Yes it suffers a little from being the middle part of a trilogy with a sudden ending that may annoy many. There are no real character arcs, with even more characters now such as the woodland elves and the citizens of Lake Town to fit in. The plethora of characters does mean that of the 13 dwarves only several get any real decent dialogue and screen time. There are some subplots that maybe misfire a little such as Gandalf’s side mission (though it serves as more bridge gapping to TLOTR) and the possible romances involving elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). However, as this is now Jackson’s fifth Middle-earth film people should know by now what to expect and if they do not like TLOTR or the first instalment of The Hobbit then just do not watch this. For the rest of us that are willing to forgive these few niggles TDOS is another rip roaring action adventure that is immersive as it is thrilling and for me, just like part one, one of the best blockbusters of the year. This is perfect escapism, where we once again feel part of this fascinating world (thanks in part once again to Howard Shore’s breathtaking music) and on the same adventure as our protagonists.
It is perhaps after seeing There and Back Again that it is best to judge the entire trilogy and its characters as a whole, as we are going to spend nine hours in their company. The fact is that no matter what situations characters find themselves in, if they are relatable characters that we like and believe in, then that is all that matters. We got to know Bilbo, Thorin and co. in part one, and I found them all to be extremely likeable characters and so felt like I was on the quest with them. Jackson successfully manages comedy and drama, making the dwarves all likeable and charming characters that we believe in and want to succeed. Thorin is perhaps the most unlikeable initially, but proved with his arc in part one to be a loyal dwarf of decency and courage. As Bilbo, Freeman is once again excellent and the stand out, his expressions adding real depth to the emotional journey that he goes on throughout the trilogy. This is particularly the case in an early scene involving a certain ring and his character defining experiences in the final third.
Admittedly, with so many characters even Bilbo is sidelined at times. The new additions also fair well: Orlando Bloom (an actor I have never rated) is solid as a more youthful and aggressive Legolas, while Evangeline Lilly is perfectly casted as fellow warrior elf Tauriel. Luke Evans provides excellent presence as all-round good egg Bard the Bowman, though he gets limited time, his character looks set to have more screen time in part three. The folk of Lake Town do not perhaps fair so better, often portrayed as caricatures that border on annoying, and that includes Stephen Fry.
With the introductions out of the way of our travelling pose, TDOS can focus more on the action and adventure. It is in the action set pieces that Jackson once again proves to be one of the best directors, delivering consistently rousing action. Whether it is giant spiders in the dark Mirkwood forest, dwarves riding barrels down a river or Elves slaying orcs, Jackson proves he has lost none of his visual flair and inventiveness.
I mentioned all the characters earlier, but of course the main character here is Smaug. When we finally get to see him after well over ninety minutes we are not disappointed. Though the film’s first two thirds have a slightly stop-start tone, it does build up tension and atmosphere, all leading to the final destination of Erebor and our inevitable meeting with Smaug. Smaug is a marvellously vast creation, he is imposing as he is sinister (as well as being perfectly voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch with some help from technology) and once he awakens the film’s final third is nonstop thrilling action. It leaves such a set up that will make the 12 month wait till There and Back Again seem like an eternity. Not only that, but there is now a huge amount of pressure on the closing chapter to better the action and intensity of what we have just witnessed. If it even manages to match it, then we are on for a truly memorable trilogy closer.
I had the misfortune of having to see it in 3D, and as per usual this adds absolutely nothing except a nice mark on the bridge of your nose from having a pair of unfashionable glasses rest on there for nearly 3 hours. So, If you can, I would strongly recommend catching the 2D showing if possible.
Though suffering from the obvious problems of being the middle chapter and occasionally being overstuffed with perhaps a few too many characters and subplots, The Desolation of Smaug is a rip-roaring action epic that impresses, excites, involves and makes next December seem very far away.