As the second instalment of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug continues Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves’ adventure to face Smaug the dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock, Star Trek Into Darkness) in the Lonely Mountain, all the while an ancient evil is re-emerging.
Much like how The Two Towers was to The Fellowship of the Ring, The Desolation of Smaug picks up from where An Unexpected Journey left off, and moves at a swift pace right the way through, and it certainly didn’t feel like it’s almost 3 hour run time. In fact, due to the nature of the ending (no spoilers), I thought there was another half an hour to go. The set pieces are more spectacular, with the barrel scene being one of the most notable. Most of the cast from the first film return, with Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage giving strong performances as Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin respectively. But this means that the dwarves also return, and like last time, most of them are forgettable, with Bombur turned into a fat joke that tires quickly.
But the exception to this is the welcome addition of a subplot for Kíli (Aidan Turner). He gets involved in a love-triangle between the new character Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly, Lost, The Hurt Locker) and fan-favourite Legolas (Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean, Kingdom of Heaven). Since this was an entirely new addition to J.R.R. Tolkien’s plot, I was worried that it would be forced and unnecessary, but this subplot was surprisingly engaging, more so than the one between Aragorn, Arwen and Éowyn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Lilly blends seamlessly into the old cast, and it adds a new and intriguing layer to Legolas’ character.
Other new members to the cast include Lee Pace (Guardians of the Galaxy) as the elf king Thranduil, British icon Stephen Fry as the greedy and arrogant Master of Laketown, and Luke Evans (Fast and Furious 6) as the Robin Hood-esque Bard the Bowman. But the real scene-stealer here is Cumberbatch as Smaug. His now famous voice menacingly adds to the dragons’ enormity, giving him a resonating and threatening screen presence, and despite not appearing until late in the film, his spine-chilling performance is worth it.
Correcting most of the flaws from the first film, The Desolation of Smaug gets the pacing right, with more action and less walking, and has a stunning cast, both old and new. The audience gets what they waited for with the highly anticipated appearance of Cumberbatch’s Smaug, and the only major problem I had was that cliff-hanger ending!