As with its predecessor I’m a bit late to the dance with The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, having picked it up on Blu-ray rather than catching it in the cinema, but either way, it had a lot to live up to with An Unexpected Journey having been one of the films I enjoyed most last year.
Unlike the previous movie this one drops us straight into the action with Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin and company immediately on the run from the same band of orcs who were on their tail in the last movie and really this pace rarely lets up for the next two hours and forty minutes or so.
This is both its highlight and its downfall. With An Unexpected Journey the world building and development of all of these characters was one of things that pulled me in and kept me interested as the story and action developed in the films second half.
Here however, of course we already know the characters coming in, but, six months after last watching, it takes a while to get back into who each of them is so I found the first couple of sections of the movie, which don’t slow up the new characters or exposition at all, lost a little for me, leaving the likes of the excellently expressed Beorn a little lost in the shuffle.
Once the party enter Mirkwood though things hit their stride and we are treated to set piece after set piece which feature some of the most inventive and genuinely exciting fantasy action work I’ve seen in a long time, continuing the trend Jackson started in the Lord of the Rings films.
One element that had caused a lot of discussion prior to the movie’s release was the inclusion of the elves, and Legolas and the newly created Tauriel in particular. As someone not so familiar with the books their inclusion didn’t really cause any problems for me and actually led to one of the nicest moments so far that link this with the previous trilogy, however the teased ‘romance’ between Tauriel and Kili felt more than a little strange and tacked on.
The major highlight of the movie comes in its final third as the titular dragon, Smaug, is finally unveiled in all his glory. A work of computer generated art combined with motion captured performance leads to a creature that fits seamlessly in with both the sets and the real actors and, in his scenes alone with Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, manages to exude a real chemistry, much like Gollum in the previous film, but with an enormous dragon rather than a basically humanoid character.
With a bunch of other new characters introduced and a whole subplot with Gandalf on a quest to find out what’s going on a Dol Guldur, The Desolation Of Smaug manages to justify its running time by keeping busy throughout and, while I possibly didn’t find it quite as consistently engaging as the first movie, its cliffhanger has left me waiting eagerly to see the final instalment and find out what happens not only to our main company but the residents of Laketown and Smaug himself.