Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo Del Toro
Based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkein
I was extremely excited for The Hobbit when it was announced that Guillermo Del Toro was directing it in one movie. Even when it switched to Peter Jackson across two movies, and later three, I still just wanted to see it. I loved the Hobbit as a kid, and An Unexpected Journey proved to be a joy that, despite the lengthy runtime, was fairly lighthearted and fun, not to mention actually feeling like a complete movie despite being 1/3 of one. Leave it to Desolation of Smaug to take what was good about the first movie and reduce it to something less enjoyable.
Desolation picks up where Journey ended, as Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), continue their quest to take back Erebor from the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Along the way, they meet the elves of Mirkwood and go through Laketown.
The highlights here stand out immediately. The entire Mirkwood segment is nice and fun, managing a mix of drama, action and comedy well. It’s a fast-paced sequence that makes the early part of the movie breeze right along. And there’s also the CGI Smaug, done with motion capture of Cumberbatch’s face along with his voice acting. It looks amazing, and it’s sufficiently creepy and awesome to behold. The fight against Smaug is also good…for the first part.
You see, where Unexpected Journey snapped along and even its slower moments had some fun to them, Desolation of Smaug drags starting with Laketown. I can’t remember how Laketown was in the book, but it’s dreary, boring, and worst of all, seems like nothing but setting up a subplot for the third movie. The worst part is that it leaves very little focus on Bilbo. Martin Freeman’s performance is fantastic, and when he’s not on-screen for a period and then suddenly comes back, you remember how much you missed it. Laketown takes him away so much that you begin to feel the movie should’ve been called Bard. And then there’s the final battle. It goes on forever, and while there are some good moments, at some point you’re just ready for it to end. And the movie does “end” in the sense that, at some point, the credits begin rolling. This is a movie entirely missing a first act, and the third act is incomplete, with the rest of it presumably being in the third movie. The audible groan from the audience at the movie’s end shows what a terrible idea this was.
Desolation of Smaug has its good parts, but they get so muddled with the movie’s long pace and little focus on Bilbo that the first movie’s fun is nearly completely gone.