Film review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), directed by Peter Jackson
With a cameo from Peter Jackson right from the off, the second instalment in the Hobbit trilogy kicks off in the past with a cautious Thorin (Richard Armitage) encountering Gandalf (Ian McKellen) at the Prancing Pony. A suggestion is made.
Cut to present day where Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the company of dwarves (Ken Stott as Balin, Graham McTavish as Dwalin, William Kircher as Bifur, James Nesbitt as Bofur, Stephen Hunter as Bombur, Dean O’Gorman as Fili, Aidan Turner as Kili, John Callen as Oin, Peter Hambleton as Gloin, Jed Brophy as Nori, Mark Hadlow as Dori, and Adam Brown as Ori) are still making their way to the Lonely Mountain.
They start out visiting shapeshifter Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt, huzzah!), and then have to take the route through Mirkwood. At this point Gandalf buggers off to go investimagating with wizard pal Radagast (Sylvester McCoy). In Mirkwood there are wood elves, like King Thranduil (Lee Pace with contact lenses), his son Legolas (Orlando Bloom, because Lord of the Rings), and token female Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly, because token female).
Then their path leads them to Laketown where we’re introduced to Bard (Luke Evans), the creepy Master (Stephen Fry) and his slimy sidekick Alfrid (Ryan Gage). And in the Lonely Mountain there is of course the magnificent red dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), sitting on a gold horde so vast it would make Scrooge McDuck blush.
Again, we went to see the high frame rate (HFR) 3D screening, because if you’re only seeing it once in the cinema anyway, let’s make it special … plus it was technically our company’s Christmas do. There were instances where the movement speed felt off, but nothing I noticed in particular – perhaps because we knew what to expect from last time. What I noticed a lot more was the “hyper real” look, where everything looks so real it looks fake, and it’s very distracting. Not sure I’ll ever get used to that, or if I even want to.
Radagast was probably my favourite character in the first film, but he’s in this one only briefly, and we only get a distance shot of his bunny-drawn sled. Still a great character, bird poo and all. Or maybe it’s because of the bird poo.
Beorn is a new face, although the actor isn’t. He’s hardly recognisable to be honest, but behind all that fur is Mikael Persbrandt (most known as Gunvald Larsson in the newer Beck series of films) – and I’m happy even Sweden is represented in this epic tale, however briefly.
Another new face is Thranduil, and what a pretty face it is. Just a shame those sparkling blue eyes are so obviously contact lenses. King Thranduil is such a nice guy to everyone he comes across that he totally doesn’t give Elvish hospitality a bad name. Not at all.
A very familiar pretty face here is Legolas, who has been included because an Elvish Orlando Bloom has a big fanbase and why shouldn’t he be in Mirkwood and put in an appearance just because he can? He gets to flaunt his bow skills again, and might or might not have something going with Tauriel. It’s a bit fuzzy there.
Before the film, there was a big hubbub about Tauriel as a character, because she seems to have been invented simply to make the film less of a sausage-fest. I had no preconceived notion about this, because I certainly am no Tolkien purist in any shape or form (heck, I haven’t even willed myself to read The Return of the King yet!), and any attempt to actually give women some airtime in this I think is a good thing. However. Her presence feels really artificial, as if she’s been pasted onto the storyline not to fulfil some kind of purpose, but simply to be Token Female and Oh Look, Here Comes the Cavalry. Don’t even get me started on the superfluous Tauriel-Kili romance subplot, which doesn’t even go anywhere.
Yeah, what The Hobbit really needed was an interracial love story to mirror that of Arwen and Aragorn, complete with what felt like copy-pasted lines from Arwen. Right, Arwen was an attempt to de-sausageify the Lord of the Rings, but the character already existed in the narrative anyway, and having her (instead of Some Random Elf) rescue Frodo worked, and gave her something more to do other than pining for Aragorn. Tauriel is not Arwen, and I don’t think the addition of Tauriel as a character really worked, even if I quite like the actor.
Then again, I thought having Legolas and Tauriel show up to save the day was odd anyway, regardless, as was having a quarter of the dwarven party stay behind in Laketown. But I digress.
I liked Bard the Bowman. Worth noting is that his two daughters are actually the real-life daughters of Jim Nesbitt! I look forward to Bard becoming a Big Damn Hero in the next film, because he’s totally worth it.
Smaug the Dragon. They’ve manipulated Cumberbatch’s voice so it’s not immediately obvious that it’s him. What a wonderful job he does in bringing Smaug to life, though, wow. Sure, Smaug is just a computer animation, but you really feel like he could very well be real.
The dwarves don’t get to talk a whole lot still, unless you’re Thorin, Kili, Fili, Bofur or the wise one with the white beard. (Nope, still can’t tell who’s who.) Thorin gets to talk a lot, yay, and he does so in ways that will bring joy to the hearts of many a fan. When watching the first film, I wondered if Richard Armitage had taken a leaf from Kristen Stewart’s book of acting, but I got over it. That thought was firmly (sadly) re-established here. Did he have an issue breathing through his nose, or why was his mouth pretending to be a fly trap for most of the film? Before I’m lynched by the Armitage Army, let me point out that he was very good at playing Thorin. He was very majestic and regal. You can definitely see the King under the Mountain in him!
My favourite character in this film is Stephen Fry’s Master of Laketown. Such a pantomime villain! He’s so horrendously hideous that he made my skin crawl, and his slithering sidekick was a lot of fun too. Disgusting and gross, both of them, but excellent nonetheless.
When you’re doing a trilogy like this, the inevitable question is how the “sequel” compares to the first film. Is it a good film in its own right, or just a way to get from film one to film three? Obviously, you can’t have the big battle of the mountain without getting from the top of the cliff at the end of An Unexpected Journey to the actual mountain, and setting up the guys in Laketown as well as introducing Smaug, so the middle bit really needs to be there.
It’s just that I expected more from The Desolation of Smaug than it delivered.
The first film might have taken a while to get out of the Shire and get moving, but it was still exciting. The second film might not dwell in the Shire for an hour before it gets going, but it just sort of plods along. They get attacked by spiders (a big thank you from arachnophobes everywhere 😒), incarcerated by wood elves, ride barrels, get attacked by orcs, arrive in Laketown, go to Erebor and fail at killing a dragon. And all that takes over 2.5 hours.
In the beginning we found out that there’s a price on Thorin’s head. You’d think that would be relevant to the plot of the film, but no. Sure, they get chased by orcs a lot, but the reason Azog wants Thorin’s head is not for monetary gain – it’s entirely personal, as was established in An Unexpected Journey. Was it only put in there to make Thorin look worried before Gandalf sat down?
Then again, Gandalf’s plot for the most part leaves a lot to be desired too, even if it does actually get somewhere by the end. Just a shame there wasn’t more of Radagast, but at least he got to put in an appearance.
Anyway. The Desolation of Smaug is fun, but I really don’t think it’s warranted being #106 on the IMDb Top 250 list, which it is at the time of writing. If you took out all the faff, you’d have an hour’s worth of story to tell. I’m still looking forward to the third and final film, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, due out in about a year’s time, but I think I’ll set my expectations lower. Perhaps low enough that if Tauriel and Kili share a kiss I wouldn’t be surprised. Maybe that’s why Legolas is so anti-dwarves when he’s first introduced? A dwarf stole his girlfriend?
It’s a beautifully made film, but parts of it sound as if they’re trying to do Shakespeare while wearing funny ears. There is very little (if any) character development, most of the dwarves still just walk around not really doing – or saying – anything, and the action scenes are simply too drawn-out – and oftentimes too show-off to feel real (“Hi I’m a wood elf. Get ready to suspend your disbelief, because I’m such an unbelievably awesome fighter”).
3.6 out of 5 fish barrels. Sorry.