By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Aidan Turner, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Orlando Bloom, and Benedict Cumberbatch
Let me make one thing that seems to be taken out of context very clear. I enjoyed last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. A lot. I found it to be like sinking into a spa after a long day. I loved being eased into the world that Peter Jackson so gallantly returned to after a decade of being away and doing other things. Middle Earth never looked or felt so good. Though, no matter what one feels about that film, a thing that no one can argue with is that the film more or less read like a 169 minute set up job. A huge tease as to what’s to come. And when I invest $15 for a movie ticket, I like to have pay-offs. This whole serial mentality of ‘pay those same $15 next time to see how this pays off’ does not really register with me though I seem to be in the minority as that film made over $1 billion.) Within the confines of a 300 page novel, that’s fine. You need 100 pages of set up. But in a film series that is adapting said novel, and is going to in the end run over ten hours, there better be a payoff. There better be a second film that fulfills a lot of promises and starts feeling like a journey through beautiful fields instead of a sludge through murky swamps. Most importantly, there better be a second film that solves conundrums and ups the stakes. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. A wondrous spectacle of film, Desolation of Smaug not only ties the loose ends An Unexpected Journey lazily left untied, it also shows the full potential of characters being portrayed and the people portraying them. As well as amusingly introducing new players to the game.
Whereas the first film started us off in a sluggish manner, this one gets us right into the action with a spectacular escape sequence involving rip roaring rapids and orcs. Once again taking the reigns of director, Jackson wields his wand like a true wizard master. The Desolation of Smaug reads like a three hour tone poem, and for ¾ of the film’s 161 minute running time, it is ripe with tension and an even more upbeat feeling than last time. In addition to a brisk pace, Jackson creates tremendous atmosphere by engulfing the film’s pallet with enthralling greys and deep greens, surrounding us with medieval houses, and he makes even a seemingly trivial scene such as Bilbo (Freeman) emerging from trees to feel the heat of the sun seem like onscreen magic.
Not since the makers of the first Star Wars trilogy has someone been able to reintroduce old characters and introduce new ones with such a naturalistic approach as Jackson does here. Thorin (Armitage), who I always felt was an almost direct mirror image of Aragon but didn’t quite register as such last time, is absolutely splendid here. From the first fight on, Armitage commands the screen, and does a great job of evoking the right combination of heroism and mystery needed for the role. McKellen, who leaves the screen for huge chunks at a time, is great as always. But the film belongs to Freeman. While Bilbo has always been a central part of The Hobbit story, I felt that last time Freeman was lingering in each scene he was in instead of owning it. That’s not the case here, as this is the film in which Bilbo first starts feeling the seductive powers of the ring. An admitted Star Wars fan, it’s no surprise that Jackson wisely plays this seduction up like it is the dark side of the Force.
The new players aren’t too shabby either. Though one in particular to THIS trilogy kind of made me turn my head a bit. Now it makes absolutely no sense that Legolas (Bloom) is here in this world. But Jackson knows that people have missed him, and he & his fellow screenwriters (including Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh, and Guillermo Del Torro) wisely write him in. And truth be told, Bloom does wonders in injecting fun into each scene he is in. Lilly is brought in as written for the film Tauriel. She seems to be here for the sole purpose of having Legolas do more than shoot arrows and squabble with dwarves, as she at one time tells Legolas in reference to Kili (Turner), :he’s quite tall for a dwarf.’ Now it brings up the obvious problem of us knowing how this love triangle pays off (which of these three is in the next trilogy?) Though I will say Lilly looked the part, and brings the type of charm that Jackson so elegantly injects into the franchise with this entry.
While I said the first three quarters of this film moves along quite nicely, the film surprisingly slows down and starts dragging once we get to Smaug in its final third. Yes it is great hearing Cumberbatch belt out Smaug’s inhumane dialogue. But Jackson always seems to have problems finding the correct time to end chapters in his trilogies, and this one’s no different. It doesn’t matter though. I am here to say that The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug is well worth the journey. We are at the hands of a master here folks, and the ride we are given here is no less than a stunning theatrical treat. Will Jackson be able to close out his trilogy in just as crowd pleasing fashion? One thing’s for sure. I would not want anyone else to try.