Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom
Director: Peter Jackson
The highlight of Peter Jackson's second movie in The Hobbit trilogy was always going to be the appearance of the fire-breathing dragon Smaug, as confirmed by the film's title. And yet that fateful encounter between the formidable beast and our heroes doesn't take place until roughly two hours into The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
A lot happens in these two hours, though mostly the film sticks to the company of exiled dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his crew of dwarves who, along with resourceful hobbit Bilbo Baggins (a consistently charming Martin Freeman), have set out on a quest to reclaim their kingdom of Erebor.
Among the obstacles they must face along the way are an army of nasty orcs, and such unpleasant creatures as a swarm of oversized spiders and a shape-shifting bear. In one of the film's most thrilling scenes, they escape in barrels from the elf dungeons along a raging river...someone ought to turn that into a theme-park ride pronto!
Jackson even manages to squeeze in the stirrings of a romance during this tense adventure, between brave elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and injured dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) whom she helps nurse back to health.
Expectedly you're all but exhausted by the time Bilbo and his friends come face to face with Smaug, but this is easily the film's most gripping portion.
Hissing and sneering (in the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch), this magnificent monster chases them through the ruins of Erebor, as Thorin and his dwarves scurry about hatching an impromptu plan to vanquish him.
Despite its butt-numbing length - a solid 2 hours and 41 minutes -The Desolation of Smaug has a pace and a cohesiveness that the previous film, An Unexpected Journey, lacked. Jackson spends more time fleshing out his characters here, and gives us some welcome moments of humor too. But this is, for the most part a solid action picture, and the set-pieces don't disappoint.
I'm going with three-and-a-half out of five for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. By the time the film ends, in a rather abrupt climax, you've forgiven its faults, and you'll be eager to see how it all ends. Until next year then...
Rating: 3.5 / 5
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