SOME MINOR SPOILERS INCLUDED IN THIS REVIEW!
Peter Jackson’s middle chapter to The Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug (TDOS) is good, but not great.
We pick up right where An Unexpected Journey (AUJ) left our band of adventurers. Immediately, the film jumps into a quickly paced series of events. We meet Beorn (although his intro and time spent here is far to short), and quickly the troop finds themselves in Mirkwood. Racing along at record pace, the dwarves and Mr. Baggins find themselves in one perilous circumstances after another. Spiders, Mirkwood elves, orcs, etc.
Given the overly long moments from AUJ, this film’s initial quick pace is as much a boon as it is a burden. The environments of Beorn’s home, Mirkwood and the elvish kingdom are so short that it’s hard to really get a solid grasp. They’re beautiful sets, but less time is given to them than they deserve.
In terms of the characters, film-created Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) fits right into the story. She feels right at home and welcomed to a male-centric story. Fan favorite Legolas is back and is less wise and more teen-like in his approach which fits with his character progression from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Bard (Luke Evans) is well done as is the Master of Laketown (Stephen Fry). They’re brief roles ultimately in this film, but the pieces are set for their stories in the final chapter of The Hobbit trilogy. Yet, despite all this, the one incredible performance that deserves a ton of credit is Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Cumberbatch breathes fire (pardon the pun) into Smaug and you can feel the repressed hate of dwarves in his performance.
Visually, Smaug is stunning, as is the scene between Bilbo and Smaug. Their back and forth conversation is ripped right off the page and is a joy to watch unfold. This all leads to the most disappointing part of the film, which is sadly the climax. I won’t say more other than it’s far too long and someone suffers from a complete characteristic reversal.
TDOS isn’t a bad movie. It has breathtaking visuals, amazing set pieces and is fun but it’s missing a few things to really make it great. In retrospect, it ends in a logical place, but sitting in the theater, I was surprised when it ended. I had expected the story to get farther along. Middle chapters in trilogies sometimes suffer because the film doesn’t really end and doesn’t tie anything up, that’s for the conclusion obviously, so maybe after we see the final chapter, my reaction will change. Until then, it’s absolutely worth seeing, but odds are you won’t be blown away other than by a few choice moments and scenes.