The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Round 2 for Bilbo and the Dwarves in Peter Jackson’s halfway point of his Hobbit trilogy

Last time we saw the courageous Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) he had (just) survived numerous attacks and death itself and, along with 13 Dwarves and Gandalf the Grey Wizard (Ian McKellen), he was in the middle of an arduous journey to The Lonely Mountain to take back the Dwarves rightful kingdom from a terrible Dragon called Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Their quest now continues in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), Peter Jackson’s second film in his trilogy adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. And things have definitely picked up pace for the middle story in Jackson’s new Middle-earth trilogy.

Although the overall momentum to the film is a lot better, things are at first very slow to get going, as they admittedly were in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012). Even the appearance of the shapeshifting Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), a fan favourite, can’t liven proceedings. But once Gandalf is (again) off to sort out some things with a pesky Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch again), leaving the Dwarves and Bilbo to head into the murky depths of Mirkwood forest alone, the fun really starts. As with Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) this time the group is split, which again means multiple storylines. Rather than being confusing though the transitions between each are thankfully seamless, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro’s script effortlessly switching from character to character, lending equal weight to all of the different narratives in the film while never losing focus on the main part and also the main hero of the story; Bilbo himself.

Speaking of Bilbo, Martin Freeman is again brilliant as the brave little Hobbit. He’s certainly found his (Hobbit) feet in this sequel and has really grown into the role. He is even funnier than in the first film, but like before he is also able to play it serious when he needs to, with the right mix of terror and determination that makes the Hobbit who he is – someone who knows he is terrifyingly out of place, yet who is determined to survive.

The rest of the returning cast are also excellent again, in particular Richard Armitage as the Dwarves hot-headed leader Thorin Oakenshield and Aidan Turner in a now expanded role as the young Dwarf Kili. This bigger role for Kili is due to a new storyline that has been added, as well as an entirely new character not seen in the book: Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) the female Elf warrior. I was highly dubious about adding a new character to the story, especially as it seemed she was merely being including so there was a female character present, as well as to add a romance element. However the new role actually works – Tauriel is a strong-willed character and interesting in her own right, and it helps that Lilly is very likeable in the role too. The romance storyline also works and is sweet without being overly sentimental or forced and, more importantly, you care what happens.

However it is seeing other characters actually from the book that makes this sequel all the more fun. We finally get to see Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace) who we only glimpsed in the first Hobbit film. Pace is a brilliant combo of overdramatic gestures and fierce stares – an intense character who we’ll hopefully get to see again in the last film. Yet it is Thranduil’s son, a returning character who we all know and love, who more people will be excited to see: Legolas the Elf (Orlando Bloom). His role from the book has also been expanded on and as with the other extended roles it works well. So not only do we get to see more thrilling Legolas action moments, we also get more backstory for the character in terms of his relationship with his father, as well as his complicated friendship with new Elf Tauriel. It also can’t be denied that although Bloom isn’t much of an actor, he really is brilliant as Legolas and does the character complete justice. He is superb in all the fight scenes yet good for the dramatic moments as the naïve and boyish Elf who doesn’t know much beyond the secluded Elven land he lives in. It is also great to see Bloom back in a role he clearly feels comfortable in, and for this reason it is a more than welcome return for the character and the actor to the world of Middle-earth.

The best character addition from the book for me though, and in my opinion one of the best performances, is Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman of Lake-town. Evans plays the complexity of Bard brilliantly – a conflicted man who wants to help others but who is also struggling to provide for his family and keep them safe in an increasingly unsafe place. Even more impressive a performance and character though is a villain from the book who finally makes an appearance – a certain Dragon called Smaug… Played by Benedict Cumberbatch via motion capture and with his remarkable vocals he creates a menacing serpentine foe. The design for Smaug is also superb and this paired with the amazing motion capture technology, as well as Cumberbatch’s terrifying performance, has created an incredibly realistic creature who is almost weirdly humanlike at times, especially in the way it taunts Bilbo.

The appearance of the main villain of the story means one thing too: scarier moments, as well as more exhilarating action. Indeed the closing scenes with Smaug are excellent and horribly tense. However the one scene that really impressed me is the barrel scene. As I mentioned in my review of the first film, The Hobbit is one of my favourite ever childhood books and although I love plenty of other moments in the book, without a doubt the barrel scene is my personal favourite. And thankfully Peter Jackson has done the moment complete credit. It is in fact better than I could ever have imagined – so well-choreographed as an action piece and absolutely breath-taking to watch…as well as hilarious too! Overall though all of the set pieces in this film are all brilliantly interpreted and realised from the book, and it makes me very excited to see just what Jackson has in store for the last film.

Peter Jackson’s second film in The Hobbit trilogy is a big step up from his first – miles more exciting and better paced, even if it is a little slow to get going. This is down to the main chuck of the storyline being used as well as an exciting new array of characters that we get to meet. And we all know what “sequel” means: more action and more danger, which benefits this film greatly. However not only has the action been stepped up for this sequel, there are also more violent and gory moments (multiple beheadings!). Yes, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a sequel that has more grit and marks the series taking a turn into the more serious – less of a children’s story and now entering into the more adult Lord of the Rings territory. Yet along with this seriousness, Jackson never loses grip on the fun aspect of this film delivering a superior fantasy sequel that nearly surpasses The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in terms of thrills and action. Some might be frustrated by the abrupt cliffhanger ending, but it’ll be worth waiting until later this year to see the final exhilarating film to complete Jackson’s trilogy.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on January 10, 2014.

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