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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Review

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

PETER Jackson’s second entry into The Hobbit trilogy may represent an improvement on An Unexpected Journey but it still falls some way short of the achievements of his Lord of the Rings series. Worse, it’s still bloated and unnecessarily drawn out.

The Desolation of Smaug does, at the very least, boast some impressive set pieces and some really good effects. But the feeling remains that stretching this particular Tolkien tale out to three movies was a folly.

The story continues the quest by the dwarves (accompanied by Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf) to reclaim Erebor, the homeland, from Smaug the dragon but finds them encountering enemies in the form of Orcs, giant spiders and scheming Middle Earth politicians (of Elvian and Laketown variety).

En route, Bilbo (once more well played by Martin Freeman) finds himself grappling with the darker elements of his new-found ring, while dwarf leader Thorin (a solid Richard Armitage) attempts to get to grips with his own mighty destiny and not become corrupted along the way.

Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen), meanwhile, finds himself called to investigate a new emerging evil with the help of fellow wizard Radagast (Sylvester McCoy).

Jackson’s film begins well, storming out of the blocks with a couple of rousing set pieces (involving those aforementioned spiders and a river escape in wine barrels). But it then becomes bogged down with needless exposition, pointless new characters and the same self-indulgent tendencies that so bedevilled the first film.

And while it’s good to see the likes of Rings favourite Legolas (Orlando Bloom) back in the fray, his presence – and that of his Elf colleagues, including Evangeline Lilly’s newly invented Tauriel – do underline the film’s shortcomings as their presence quite often feels like padding. Lilly, in particular, may acquit herself well during the physical battle sequences, but a love interest between Tauriel and a dwarf is a serious drag on the film’s momentum.

Similarly, the eagerly-anticipated conclusion, in which Smaug is finally and impressively unveiled (and voiced with suitably scheming menace by Benedict Cumberbatch), is broken up with a couple of other action sequences that – again – interrupt the otherwise smooth flow of the action.

Hence, for everything that works in The Desolation of Smaug (effects, Freeman, Armitage, Luke Evans and McKellen), there’s plenty that doesn’t (Stephen Fry, Lilly, romances, et al). What’s more, there’s still a significant majority of the dwarves themselves who remain either unrecognisable from one another or poorly drawn in terms of character. If there is to be an emotional arc to their story, it has yet to really manifest itself.

This isn’t to say that The Desolation of Smaug is terrible. Indeed, there are times when it successfully channels the memory of the far superior Rings trilogy. But there are equally plenty more occasions when Jackson perhaps needed to step back and re-consider the lean, action-packed nature of the book from which he is adapting.

As good as this sequel is in places, it still has to rate as bloated and, eventually, patience sapping. And that’s coming from a huge admirer of The Lord of the Rings movies.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 161mins
UK Release Date: December 13, 2013