Peter Jackson and company return with part 2 of The Hobbit trilogy and The Desolation of Smaug promises to be their biggest and boldest achievement so far. There's so many actors and actresses in this movie it would take the same amount of time to read the list as it would be to watch the movie itself...which is 161 minutes long! That extensive list does feature Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Orlando Bloom, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, and Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of the dragon known as Smaug.
Picking up right where An Unexpected Journey left off, we find the company of dwarves along with Bilbo (Freeman) the Hobbit, and the wizard Gandalf (McKellen) being pursued by Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) and his orc army. After making their way into the rotting Mirkwood Forest, they find themselves in one predicament after another including being captured by the elves of Mirkwood who harbor no good tidings for dwarves that invade their land.
This is also where we get to see Legolas (Bloom) as well as his captain Turiel (Lilly) enter the story as they start out as enemies, but soon become more sympathetic to the company's cause. At least Turiel is as she quickly gains a particular interest that goes against both Legolas and his father Thranduil's (Lee Pace) ideals and she sets off to help the company against the orc army that is still in hot pursuit. After a whirlwind river sequence that could easily turn into an amazing theme park attraction, Bilbo and the dwarves (Gandalf has gone off to take care of some other business) head to Laketown which is their last stop before reaching the Lonely Mountain where Thorin (Armitage) is hoping to kill the dragon Smaug and reclaim his lost kingdom.
As I mentioned a moment ago, Gandalf is off on his own looking for clues as to the identity of the mysterious Necromancer and he quickly discovers, with the help of Radagast (Sylvester McCoy), that evil has progressed farther back into Middle Earth than they had originally thought. Meanwhile, back in Laketown, the company has enlisted the aid of a man named Bard (Evans) to help them prepare for the final journey to the Lonely Mountain although he has reservations about their plans to awaken a menace that has lied dormant for decades.
I actually had to watch this movie twice before writing my review as there was just so much going on, I wanted to make sure I had properly absorbed it all (visuals and story) to be able to give you my best impression of how I felt after seeing it. Bottom line, this is a very entertaining movie that movie goers of all ages will get a kick out of. The action is very upbeat and actually not quite as cartoon looking as in the first movie although the heroes do continue to breeze through the orc army like a knife through warm butter taking away any sense of real danger or mortality. This is necessary though as the whole tone of this trilogy is much lighter than the Lord of the Rings movies which take Middle Earth down a much darker path.
There will be a lot of die hard Tolkien fans that won't like some of the additions made by Peter Jackson and company and, while I can understand that, I really don't have a problem with it. Sure, there is the unavoidable topic of making a relatively short story into three movies so there are more tickets to sell, but I am also really starting to see where they are going in fleshing things out and setting up everything that takes place in the Lord of the Rings. Believe me, I grew up reading the books and I love them dearly, but I really don't have a problem with how the movies have turned out so far.
As far as acting, there really isn't much to talk about other than there are a few silly lines that have to be delivered and the exposition in the dialog is a little excessive. Yes, Thorin, we have already been told three times that we have to get to the mountain by a certain day or all is lost...thanks, though...again. Ian McKellen is great as always as Gandalf and all the guys that play dwarves seem to be having a great time playing their parts. Martin Freeman continues to play Bilbo to absolute perfection as the character has so many conflicting emotions and is never quite sure of what he wants to or is able to do, but has resigned himself to the fact that he is a part of this adventure so he needs to just get on with it. I truly believe that we couldn't have asked for a better actor to play this most important of characters and he is delivering at every turn.
Visually, this is one of the most beautiful movies you will ever see. Definitely see it in 3D and I also recommend checking out the high frame rate option as well although IMAX is not a must since it was post converted. If you're not sure what all that is about, you can read more HERE, but finish this review first. Like I said before, some improvements have been made to make the movie look less like a cartoon than the first one, but this is still a fantasy movie so there are a lot of wondrous and magical things going on that have to be computer animated and, not matter how technology progresses, your eyes can still see the difference pretty quickly. That being said, Peter Jackson and the very talented folks at Weta Digital seem to have a firm grasp on all the technology they have at their disposal, I just wish they would pull back once in a while instead of doing some crazy stuff just because they can.
For me, one of the things that seems to be missing from this trilogy is the sense that each moment we see on the screen is utterly important and every bit of dialog has a certain poetry to it that made the first trilogy such an amazing achievement. Sure, based on the source material, there is less to work with here, but it really doesn't seem like the same careful attention to every single detail is being utilized and, while the movie is enjoyable, I wouldn't put it or An Unexpected Journey on the same level as their predecessors. This, plus the inclusion of all the stuff that never existed in the book is sure to get the die hard fan base all riled up, like how Liv Tyler's Arwen character was added to LotR although she was at least pulled from Tolkien's books instead of being made up entirely by the filmmakers.
With this movie, there is no shortage of fun going on and the visual spectacle alone should be enough to satisfy the average moviegoer. The one thing you will want to be prepared for is how, since this is the middle segment of a three part story, there is a pretty significant cliffhanger ending that may leave you going "Show me more, right now!" even more so than The Two Towers did back when those movies were coming out. Bottom line, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a great movie that is going to rake in gigantic piles of cash at the box office and is seriously worth every penny.