It doesn’t matter how good this movie is (it’s quite good), if you haven’t seen the first one – last year’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” – there’s really no reason to buy a ticket for this one. Oh, it stands on its own, as a solid movie with a well defined beginning, middle, and end, but only if you’ve already begun the journey of its long, twisting, turning tale.
That first film, even with its convoluted storyline, and its endless stream of exposition concerning meeting character after character, took in over a billion dollars at the box office. If the ecstatic reaction from Tolkien geeks and cloak- and beard-wearing fans of the book and the first movie at the recent world premiere of part two of Peter Jackson’s trilogy is any indication, it’s all going to happen again.
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” — Smaug being the dragon that decimated the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor and now calmly sleeps inside Erebor’s Lonely Mountain, beneath the remains of the biggest treasure of gold since the days of Ali Baba — picks up right where the first film left off. Thirteen Dwarves, headed by their future king, Thorin (Richard Armitage), along with the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the Hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman) are on, as everyone seems to be in a Tolkien adventure, a journey, this one heading back to Lonely Mountain to reclaim Erebor from the dragon.
Thank goodness they don’t all have to be introduced again. The action can just begin, and there’s plenty of it, compliments of Jackson’s extraordinary grasp of how to merge live actors with CGI effects, as well as, along with his writing team, the ability to tell a thrilling story and give some depth to the characters within it.
Yet there’s still a bit of a problem with all of those characters, as unless you’re one of those aforementioned geeks, you’re going to have some trouble keeping track of them and their names and who among them is related to whom. But that’s OK. Just go with the energetic flow. You’ll soon figure out that the Dwarves and the Hobbit and the wizard are the good guys, that the hideous Orcs who are hunting them down because they have “a taste for Dwarf blood” are the bad guys, and the Wood-Elves – Orlando Bloom returns as Prince Legolas, and Evangeline Lilly (“Lost”) is introduced as Captain of the Guard Tauriel – are somewhere in between. (Note: Legolas only appeared in “The Lord of the Rings” books, not “The Hobbit,” and Tauriel is a newly invented character, but their incorporation in this film is pulled off without a hitch, and fans were not complaining.)
That energy comes from some fantastic set pieces that regularly place our little heroes in peril. Arachnophobes might have a squirmy time watching the Dwarves’ encounter with the huge and hungry spiders of Mirkwood Forest (I know I did!). Yet scary sequences like that are balanced with the wild comedy that’s part of the same group’s barrel ride down some roaring rapids. That part is, excuse the expression, barrels of fun! But the film’s high point occurs near the end when the titular psychotic dragon (mellifluously and malevolently voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) makes his appearance in creepy conversation with Bilbo, and turns out to be the best flying, fire-breathing dragon in cinema history.
Page 2 of 2 - One of the coolest things about the film, at least for fans of British TV, is that the pairing of and acting by Cumberbatch and Freeman in the dragon and Hobbit scene is 180 degrees away from the equally wonderful work they do as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson on the BBC series “Sherlock.”
Yet the film is by no means for everyone. It’s extremely violent (I’m talking about arrows through heads and decapitations) and even though the visual effects are astounding, the much-ballyhooed 48 frames-per-second projection still makes some of it look like a soap opera (it would be best to catch it in IMAX 3D). The trilogy’s finale, “The Hobbit: There and Back Again,” will hit theaters on Dec. 17, 2014.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro; directed by Peter Jackson
With Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Benedict Cumberbatch