The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
For all the misadventures and exciting set pieces of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, it was hard not to feel frustrated that very little ground had been made in terms of furthering the story. Fortunately, the second film does step up the stakes, with Bilbo Baggins and the troupe of dwarves venturing deeper into an increasingly dangerous Middle Earth to regain lost treasure from the grasps of the belligerent dragon, Smaug.
The Hobbit films are perhaps best viewed as 'Further Adventures in Middle Earth', as their real strength lies in unpacking Tolkien's world further and exploring the many and varied people, creatures and locations it contains. As an ongoing narrative, there's little doubt that there really isn't enough story to go around. New characters, dwarf/elf love triangles, and the ongoing Orc threat, can't really hide the fact that there really isn't a lot happening, short of running from danger to danger in increasingly weird and wonderful ways.
That said, there is plenty to enjoy. The barrel ride sequence is a particular hoot, filled with energy and ideas, as well as plenty of Legolas' extreme-archery; a thing that we've come to know and love. The addition of Legolas into this story feels welcome, even if the attempt to provide him with a romantic sub-plot (and in the process, a demographically pleasing strong female figure) feels a little strained.
Unfortunately, Smaug doesn't really do too much desolating, but he's still an impressive beast, brilliantly realised, with Cumberbatch's silky arrogance proving that, as with Bilbo's earlier interactions with Gollum, some of the film's most dramatic moments can be found in Tolkien's original dialogue. As a cinematic experience, it may lack the scale and high stakes of it's big brother trilogy, but The Hobbit proves that, once again, Jackson's skills as a world-builder are unparalleled, enticing you deeper into the heart of Middle Earth, a place that is always a pleasure to return to.
Words: Ali Bianchi