But before touting the new film and bashing its predecessor, a few notes: First, why is Luke Evans, who plays Bard in the new film, made up to look like Robert Goulet? Second, why is Evangeline Lilly not in every Tolkein film? Third, shorter is better. Much better.
Let’s start with the third observation first. It’s not that The Desolation of Smaug is so much shorter than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Kick in the Nuts (roughly 10 minutes), it’s just that there’s infinitely more story to tell here, and the brisk editorial pace underscores that point over and over.
For example, in this entry, the dwarves (look ‘em up on imdb.com yourself) and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) have to get from point A to point B to point C to another point and then evade some stuff and fight some other things and LOOK OUT SPIDERS, OMG MEAN ELVES! IS THAT AN ORC? LOOK OUT, RAGING RAPIDS!
There’s much, much more going on here. There is mercifully no time for singing. There is no time for cutesy poo shenanigans—in short, no mutton to eat. I don’t know whether the poor reception to the outright excess of The Hobbit: Three Hours I’ll Never Get Back made director Jackson and editor Jabez Olssen rethink pacing, but Jackson clearly learned lessons George Lucas never did.
As for story, we pick up with a brief prologue. Then, skipping to the present, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) is off, separating from Bilbo and the dwarves (Tolkein's spelling!) on their way to that place the dwarves used to live until the dragon, Smaug, killed everyone. (Does the name of the town matter? No. The dwarves have reclaiming to do; they could be reclaiming Upper Volta, Monaco and Iceland and it wouldn’t make a difference to the story.)
And now…adventure! Bilbo and the dwarves get lost in the woods. Spiders grab them (shades of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). Bilbo uses the ring (which he lifted off Gollum in The Hobbit: Has Anyone Seen My Reading Glasses?) to go invisible and do some killing.
Yes. Bilbo is a killer. It’s almost as if the ring made him do it. Quel dommage!
Enter elves. Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly, who’s wonderful) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom is in a movie again!) save the dwarves (and Bilbo) and then imprison them because the Elf king hates dwarves or something.
Luckily for the dwarves, Bilbo has evaded capture by virtue of invisibility, finds the keys, releases the dwarves and gets them rolling on the river like “Proud Mary.” And Tauriel has become smitten with a dwarf (the one without all the make-up), and she and Legolas set off after them.
And then there’s Smaug. While some of them special effects in this Hobbit film look a little corny, it’s becomes clear why: They spent the money on Smaug the Dragon, and Benedict Cumberbatch, who voices the beast, is in excellent, creepy, scary form.
There was always a level of danger with Smaug on screen. Would he look real? Is it believable that a dragon just wants to sleep? Is it true that he turned down a guest spot on A&E’s Hoarders?
Whatever the potential problems, the showdown with Smaug—which takes up the last third of the movie—is a nail biter and an appropriate set-up for the third Hobbit film. That means Luke Evans will once again have to do a Robert Goulet impression, but at least he and his cast mates—again, thankfully—don’t break into song.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
Directed by Peter Jackson
With Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and Evangeline Lilly
Regal Stadium 14
Lots of beheadings for a PG-13 film