An Unexpected Journey, the first in an unnecessary Hobbit trilogy, was a huge disappointment to me. Having mostly to do with boredom with the book itself and the high frame rate version of the film I watched. It seemed to lack the love in which Peter Jackson brought into the original trilogy, as well as the passion and story elements he gave us in those three films. Nevertheless, I was determined to see the second installment for a book written for children and less than 300 pages long. Did Jackson disappoint me again?
Starting where the last film left off, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and company continue their journey to the Lonely Mountain while still being pursued by a group of orcs. As they manage to escape, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is called away to investigate something else mysterious going on in the opposite direction of the mountain, so the dwarves enter the Mirkwood without him. Soon after entering the Mirkwood, the dwarves are lost and attacked by a group of talking spiders only to be saved by the wooden elves led by Legolas (Orlando Bloom). The elves enslave the dwarves but, thanks to Bilbo’s magic ring, he is able to stay undetected and is then able to save the dwarves from their prison. The dwarves soon find themselves in Laketown thanks to one of the townspeople named Bard (Luke Evans). After spending a short time there, Bilbo and some of the dwarves climb the lonely mountain and send Bilbo in to steal a special stone from a sleeping dragon named Smaug.
Thankfully, after a very slow opening twenty minutes, The Desolation of Smaug shows itself to be far above its predecessor in every way possible. The story is clearer, the action is better and so is the acting. Martin Freeman continued to show that he was a brilliant choice for Bilbo Baggins, this time bringing a little more cunning to the character as well as keeping it light hearted. The problem is, for a movie named after his character, he is barely in it. Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin and is the leader of the dwarves, brings forth dark confidence but still falls a little short of Vigo Mortenson’s Aragorn. Many of the dwarves are given more lines and screen time, which works both for the films good but also fell flat at times. Although the character addition of Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) doesn’t grate on me as much as I expected it to, it was still very hard not to see the actress who created one of the worst characters ever put on film playing bow and arrow. Also, the added love story between her character and one of the dwarfs, while not horrible, was not needed and added nothing to the film. Oddly enough the bland acting comes from McKellan who seems to be on auto pilot and that doesn’t usually fit him.
The story told in these films still seems like it’s trying to find its footing, which isn’t a great sign when watching the second film in the trilogy. One of the problems with the story as its being told is that there is plenty of high stakes that set up for potential loses to either the characters or to a big change in their worldview at the end of it, but it doesn’t seem like that will ever happen There is danger and excitement but there feels like there is such a huge lack of character development, something that was hugely successful in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, that you don’t care about characters and what they are facing. By this point in the original trilogy you cared about almost all of the characters and what they were up against…here…it’s just one set up for the next action scene. Normally that wouldn’t matter to me as long as it was entertaining, which it is, but I was expecting more from a man who did the impossible with bringing Middle Earth so successfully on the big screen. He gave us characters we rooted for, cared about and wanted to emulate. Where is the sense of good vs. evil or the desire to become more than you think you can be? It’s not here, not in a tangible way anyway. Things are happening on the screen in front of our eyes, but we the viewer do not put any stock into caring about the story or characters.
The scene with Smaug and Bilbo is great as are the set pieces for Laketown. The big action sequence dealing with dwarves, orcs, elves, raging rapids and barrels is fun to watch as is the design of the insides of the Lonely Mountain. For some this could be another boring return to a once unflinchingly beloved world only a little better than last time. But for those of you were liked the first one, then this is going to be even better for you.
2 and ½ stars out of 4