Just a short disclaimer; this review is based upon a 24 FPS screening in 2-D, so there will be no suggestions about Jackson’s choice of filming; just on the actual content.
Since the three Lord of the Rings films brought in so much critical acclaim, box office money and 1st class award statues, it would seem like an almost ridiculous notion for Peter Jackson to not adapt the book that preceded these films, The Hobbit. His experimentation with the frames per second, as well as the choice to stretch it out into three separate films, has not been received with great approval. However, Jackson stuck to his guns and filmed as planned. The first film, An Unexpected Journey, was something of a disappointment; the characterization was rushed and the pacing and flow was so stop-start, it was really difficult to be grasped by the story. Now we come onto The Desolation of Smaug, where the main plot point of the book is showcased and the build-up truly begins – or so Jackson plans.
The plot picks up on the edges of Mirkwood, where the party of dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), where they are continuing their trek towards the Lonely Mountain. However, a set of Orcs led by Azgog the Defiler are hunting them down, as well as the threat from the Wood Elves of Mirkwood, creatures and spells inside these woods, as well as the sudden departure of Gandalf (for a seemingly unknown reason) makes things extremely difficult for the party. Furthermore, they then have to deal with the men of Lake-town, led by the Master (Stephen Fry), as well as the ever-looming confrontation with the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Not only that, but both Bilbo and Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) seem to have an internal problem with certain artefacts they possess and want…
Whether or not the indication was clear in the opening paragraph, let me clarify this: I, like many other, am against splitting the book into three separate movies. This would not be such a big issue, if it weren’t so blatant and shameless in its execution, and to add insult to injury, both taking out chunks in the book as well as shoving in additional parts, and the latter is done so without reason; it is very indulgent on Jackson’s part, and it is not beneficial. This is an obvious problem for me, and unfortunately for The Desolation of Smaug, that isn’t the only flaw.
Ultimately, the biggest problem I have with the film is this: it’s dull and un-necessary. There are large chunks of plot that are constantly being added, and things get built up even more – and most of it leads to nothing. It suffers from the same problem that An Unexpected Journey in that it is filmed in a hit-and-run style. We move from one scene to the next with very few consequences and without any real development from our many characters. However, The Desolation has an even more jumbled and disjointed structure, making the narrative suffer even more so from it.
Also, as I said earlier, there are additional elements thrown into the film, and they are all pointless. Legolas is thrown into the Wood Elves section; apparently there was a reason for doing that. References to the Lord of the Rings, such as Sauron, are also introduced – for an effect that will influence so few people, it is virtually pointless. Even when we are introduced to the dragon (who is voiced superbly by Cumberbatch, I might add), his part is given additional scenes (which include the dwarves) and they add nothing. The mere paranoia of Smaug in the books was far more effective than what is shown in the film. This section also leads into the films’ second biggest problem; it drags. It’s 160 minutes, and nearly every single scene goes on for far longer than it should. The Wood Elves, the barrel chase, the Lake-town and the Master, Gandalf’s scenes – all of it works to the films’ disadvantage by being so drawn out. Combine that with the clumsy editing and it makes it even harder to watch.
The only notable saving grace is the acting, as there are many great performances here. There is the previously mentioned Cumberbatch, but there’s also Martin Freeman, who again captures the nervous vigour of Bilbo Baggins without any trouble. Richard Armitage also steps up his game here, far more convincing in the role of a fallen king than he was in An Unexpected Journey. And of course there’s the indomitable Stephen Fry, who has a lot of fun playing the bumbling yet villainous Master of Lake-town. But where these actors bring the film up, is immediately brought down by the sheer lack of character development. Bilbo and Thorin have their obsession moments, but all the other dwarves are still the same, Legolas and Tauriel have an odd family tie hastily thrown together, Gandalf does very little and the rest ultimately follow suit. There is an odd romantic suggestion between Tauriel and Fili, but it seems really out of place, and only really is used for certain plot advancements. Like many things in The Desolation, it feels tacked on.
This did not feel like a love letter to fans of the book, or even fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It felt incredibly indulgent and ultimately ended up becoming a seriously below par film. Despite little chunks of entertainment from the actors and the occasional sequence, there is very little that The Desolation offers. While An Unexpected Journey was disappointing, this was flat out bad. Personally, it isn’t worth your time or money.