Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars
When we last saw Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) and his dwarf friends they were winding their way through the Misty Mountains on a quest. A quest for treasure, honor and redemption. And the only thing standing in their way was….a dragon!
Picking up where the first film of the trilogy, “An Unexpected Journey,” ended, “The Desolation of Smaug” follows the group, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), as they head towards a showdown with the fierce beast that now controls what once was their kingdom. Along the way they encounter a band of elves, led by a familiar face from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Legolas (Bloom). They have parted company with the wizard Gandalf (McKellen) and are left to their best devices. After dealing with over-size spiders and murderous Orcs they come upon a village where they persuade the townspeople to support them in their cause. This leads to a showdown between “burglar” Bilbo and the fire breathing monster.
What a treat it has been the past two Decembers to sit in the darkness of a movie theatre and take a Peter Jackson-designed journey. He brings to the “Hobbit” films the same care and craftsmanship he brought to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Abandoning the 48 frames-per-second process he used for “An Unexpected Journey” (a process that gave the film an amazing clarity but was very distracting), Jackson and his crew have fashioned a two and a half hour thrill ride that takes audiences into Middle Earth and the secrets enclosed inside.
The cast have grown into a strong ensemble and each character gets a chance to shine. For a portion of the film Bilbo is more of a secondary character, the story focusing more on the dwarves and their leader. Freeman brings a quiet honor to Bilbo, making him much more bolder and braver in this chapter. Armitage is strong as Thorin while McKellen once again holds the screen as the great Gandalf the Gray. His single-handed battle with the Orcs is one of the main set pieces of the film and it does not disappoint. Even though I understand the character of Legolas is not in any of JRR Tolkein’s “Hobbit” books, it was like seeing an old friend when he came on screen. He is also joined by a new character, Taurien, played by Evangeline Lily. Finally, there is the great Smaug, menacingly voiced by Bennedict Cumberbatch with a mixture of menace and humor. Smaug is truly one of the greatest screen creatures ever portrayed on film. With his silky-smooth voice and fire breath he truly is terrifying.
As I, and millions of fans, wait for next December to bring about the third chapter, I highly recommend taking in “The Desolation of Smaug” and losing yourself in the adventure.