Certain questions are likely to pass through your mind as you watch The Desolation of Smaug. Questions like: what is Legolas doing here? How did Evangeline Lilly manage to get herself involved in another love triangle? In all his wisdom why has Gandalf still not realised his companions could really use his giant winged friends to get where they need to go, rather than walking, fighting and one or two frequently dying along the way?
Indeed, the latter criticism is perhaps unfair because this movie is bound by the rules of the book on which it is based. Or is it? The Hobbit ‘trilogy’ (if it can be called that, for essentially being one film split into three) has become unique in cinema for being a literary adaptation that actually needed to add to the source material in order to fill up screen time. Usually it’s the other way around, and this is also usually the reason people will say the book is always better. By that logic we can assume that The Hobbit in cinematic form is better than its counterpart, right? I wouldn’t be so sure… for two reasons.
The first is that I haven’t actually read The Hobbit, and can only judge by what I see here.
The second is that what I saw here wasn’t that great.
Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe looking unfavourably at this film, which made $8.8 million on its midnight opening and $893 million worldwide (based entirely on its name), before first dissecting certain parts of it to explain my reasons why, is incredibly biased of me. In that case allow me to indulge you, my critically astute readership.
So, Bilbo (played by the famous doctor Watson, aka Martin Freeman) continues his journey in this film alongside the same band of dwarves and one wizard with whom he travelled in the first movie, at the end of which they were dropped as far away from their ultimate destination as they possibly could be dropped, by the eagles I’ve already mentioned (and probably shouldn’t mention again).
The ever-present Gandalf (Ian McKellen, who admittedly still does a fine job despite probably being able to play the role in his sleep) soon leaves the group to conduct his own journey in this second film – producing one of the more interesting sub-plots regarding a necromancer and hinting at the impending return of Lord Sauron. The movie builds this up well, and as someone who hasn’t read the original story but is otherwise well aware of the LOTR mythology, I found it all rather exciting.
Continuing on their journey, the core of our group pass through a number of dangerous locations, occasionally finding themselves in situations that could (and in some cases, definitely should) result in their deaths. This soon produces another sub-plot, one that isn’t as enthralling as the one mentioned above, involving Evangeline Lilly’s character Tauriel and Orlando Bloom’s Legolas.
Lilly in fact lights up every scene she is in as the gloriously red-haired Tauriel –but this only makes you wonder why she is seemingly falling for an unconvincing dwarf (Kili, played by Aidan Turner) in a half-hearted love triangle storyline, as Legolas secretly pines over her. Together they become entwined with the dwarves’ quest against a common enemy: orcs, who wouldn’t be the fearsome creatures everyone considers them to be if we judged them by their abysmal kill rate and terrible accuracy.
This leads me to draw attention to another of the movie’s sins, albeit one that a great many Hollywood productions are guilty of; the dreaded ‘deus ex machina’. You remember all those occasions in the first film when Gandalf would conveniently turn up to save the day just when it looked like our characters had ended up in an impossible situation and were all about to die? Well, with Gandalf absent from the main quest this time, the elves step into that role (at those times when they aren’t available, it requires a mixture of Bilbo’s clumsiness and an extreme amount of luck).
Despite my cynicism, there are good things about The Desolation of Smaug. Martin Freeman remains the undoubted star of the show as Bilbo Baggins; it’s hard to imagine what these films would have been had someone else took the role. Smaug the dragon himself is hugely memorable, partly due to Benedict Cumberbatch’s characterisation but also the special effects that make him. The cat and mouse climax to the movie is worth waiting for, but boy do you have to wait for it, with a running time of almost three hours.
Yes, the movie is too long, bearing in mind this here is only a third of it. You may have been wondering how I thought this second part of the trilogy measured up against other famous second parts of trilogies, such as The Empire Strikes Back or The Godfather part 2. But please, let’s not judge The Desolation of Smaug by such unfair comparisons. It deserves deeper consideration. This is merely the second part of an adaptation of a slim children’s book that itself was only a prelude to something bigger, and as such, I’m afraid I don’t much care for it.
5 / 10.