“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” entertains with its fiery wave of action and adventure. However, it remains hamstrung by its own middle chapter narrative problems.
Clearly forced into a trilogy stretch for the cash-cow potential of a single book, this second “Hobbit” film proves that one can have too much of a good thing when it comes to delivering a quota of thrills, but still end up as yet another ponderous placeholder for the grand finale. At the very least, it energetically wanders deep into the realm of fan fiction, while remaining true to the spirit of its source material for the most part.
After almost three hours of offering an overlong glimpse of what’s to come for the final movie of the series, this sophomore treat really feels too long and overdrawn. It comes off as nothing more than a connective tissue or padding between the introductory and concluding parts of the enduringly popular masterpiece by J.R.R. Tolkien. And so, it feels like a cheat, especially to those who don’t just watch for the visual storytelling feast, but also for the overall value of an independently working narrative.
On a more positive note, it is worth mentioning that the thin story still becomes an outlet for action-driven additions that aptly build emotional tension for the individual scenes. Rarely pausing for breath and often emphasizing movement over chaos, the exposition evidently takes a backseat in favor of relentless action. There is clearly that luxury of time for viewers to enjoy the film’s visual excess. However, the attempt to expand a much smaller story to the epic scale of this cinematic presentation occasionally leads to weariness.
Peter Jackson’s direction makes the overwrought script work as a blockbuster tale with a seamlessly integrated make-believe world inhabited by a courageous hobbit, temperamental dwarves, intense wizards, prideful elves, unpredictable humans, giant spiders, and an evil dragon. He broadens the book’s original details to secure a significant number of sizeable thrills — showcasing jaw-dropping set pieces, impeccable special effects, and intricate sound design throughout the film’s running time. To be fair, it is worth noting that weaving all these technical essentials together for them to make sense in this rollicking fantasy adventure is a feat on its own.
Smaug as an engaging digital creation offers the same kind of spectacle rendered by Gollum and Smeagol from the previous offerings of the canon.
Jackson is able to keep the material’s thematic subtexts within reach, providing deeper context to most of the goals and motivations of the characters. However, over the course of more than two and a half hours, some key characters tend to lose their weight in the story. Even with the mostly outstanding acting performances, the core emotional investment the audience needs to empathize or sympathize with them gets overshadowed by the more superficial elements in the story.
In its essence, regardless of being deliberately overlong, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” still finds enough Middle Earth magic for its willing audience — just like the first film in the trilogy. While the storytelling in this sequel to the three-volume “Hobbit” tale doesn’t really measure up to the level of excellence of “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy,” its prevailing quest story has enough stakes that provide a riot of action and that distinctive form of cinematic pleasure for its willing fan base.