I was one of the minority it seems in that I thoroughly enjoyed the first Hobbit film. It built at a great pace and was a fun, action-packed adventure. For The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, however, the careful pacing of the first film seems to have gone out the Hobbiton window, leaving behind a film that is, in parts, jaw-droppingly spectacular (seriously, my jaw actually dropped!) and in others, mind-numbingly dull.
As the film begins, a darkness is spreading over Middle Earth. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is getting concerned and implores Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves (led by Richard Armitage) to hurry along with their quest before their window of opportunity closes. Thorin (Armitage) starts getting more ruthless the closer he gets to reclaiming the wealth and home of his people and Bilbo begins to use the ring, which starts to reveal a little more of the power it holds over him.
There is plenty of action – between all the walking and running – including a hilarious sequence involving barrels. On their journey, the group runs into many scary creatures, including an animal who can shapeshift, many dreaded orcs and plenty of ill-tempered elves. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) makes an appearance and scowls his way through every scene he's in. Fortunately, many of these scenes take place alongside Evangeline Lily's newly-created Tauriel, who becomes a welcome breath of fresh air, bringing a spark, ferocity and heart to an otherwise dull group of male characters. The film boasts an impressive cast list but sadly most of the characters which are intending to be menacing or strike fear in the viewers are laughable and have no depth. You would think with all that time to develop their characters, a bit more attention could have been paid.
That said, one character who is anything but dull is Bilbo himself. Thanks to Freeman, Bilbo manages to bring courage, inner turmoil over his precious ring and humour to the role. Many of the laugh out loud moments are thanks to him and his mannerisms and when he finally meets the dragon, Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), he – like the dragon himself – truly shines. Smaug's arrival is undoubtedly the best part of the whole film. I'd say he is worth the wait but even that might be pushing it. Both the special effects used to bring Smaug to life and the incredible vocal talents of Cumberbatch make for one of the most incredible, breath-taking creatures ever seen on screen, from the moment his eye is first visible to that when he reveals his full size and power.
The real issue with the film is that the really good parts of it are far too sparse and by the time they arrive, you've barely got enough motivation to keep paying attention. The group spends so long walking and talking that every time a literal or figurative roadblock is put before them, you figure out a way out long before they do. It quickly becomes easy not to care and when Smaug finally appears, you may find yourself willing him on instead.
It is really such a shame that this brilliant story has been dragged out over three films. Though this second of the trilogy offered a few moments of spectacular, the rest just felt like filler. The end result is overly long and self-indulgent.
Film - 2.5 FOBLES