Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly
Spoken in theory and in fear, reaching Erebor and fighting the creature inhabiting the place brought plenty of intrigue, but taking it head-on leaves all hypotheticals and mental recreations to the fate of reality. This becomes the case in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as yet another example of an unnecessarily overstuffed story with a few bright spots to make it somewhat digestible.
Getting closer to arriving at Erebor and potentially retaking their homeland, Thorn (Richard Armitage) along with Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the other dwarves face a new set of challenges including the world of elves and men as petty rivalries from the past continue to sour. At the end of it all, they hope to enter and finally take on Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).
With enough goodwill given to An Unexpected Journey with how it attempted to stretch out its story to cover less than a handful of pages from a novel, The Desolation of Smaug brings in a far worse element, adding in new unnecessary nonsense. An issue that in all reality makes sense considering this nearly three-hour film probably takes longer to watch than actually reading the segments pulled from the novel, these added elements really needed to pad the runtime for some ungodly reason and tries to keep the audience engaged with their love of the previous trilogy of films.
This addition occurs, of course, with the bringing back Orlando Bloom as Legolas. Something only made to have audiences point at the screen and say “Hey, I know him.” His inclusion feels far too cynical for whatever addition the filmmakers thought he brings to the story. Not only does it feel worthless, but it adds to the larger emblematic issues plaguing this feature, which comes from the horrid leniency of visual effects making everything look artificial and that these films did not have to be a trilogy. Bless Orlando Bloom for coming back and picking up more paychecks for this character, but his age cannot be hidden by so much technology and the efforts to make him look as youthful as he was in the early 2000s makes the character look very off-putting where he looks like an aged computer simulation. He not only adds nothing of substance to the story other than getting in some love triangle, but it doesn’t even look good in the process.
Additionally, this feature has trouble striking the right balance of its tone where it wants to handle some dark elements inherent to the story but several of the sequences give off such a cartoonish feel to them, almost to an unsettling degree. No other scene encapsulates this more than when Bilbo helps the dwarves escape from the Elvish prison as they float down the river in barrels. It shows off the artificial nature of this film’s aesthetic in all of it looking atrocious but also left me shrugging wondering what in the hell was happening here. Yet another scene needlessly added to only make this film so much longer for no discernible reasons.
With all of the issues this film has, once it hits the third act and Bilbo interacts with Smaug, the quality on display reaches its highest highs. Having built up the massiveness and cruelness of Smaug for nearly five hours of storytime across the two films, it finally became time for Bilbo to fulfill his purpose as part of the team, and it certainly did not disappoint. Helped on by a strong vocal performance by Benedict Cumberbatch as the dragon, the back and forth between the two and what the final results display towards the conclusion get at what makes this creature so dangerous. Hobbits have looked small compared to many other species in these films, but Smaug brings a different level of vastness that almost made the wait worth it. This, however, does not mean the third act elevates the whole feature as a whole, not even remotely close.
While The Desolation of Smaug has elements to it that deserve appreciation, the overall product cannot shake off its brazen cynical moments where it feels completely soulless. They attempt to interject a love triangle containing no steam, bring back legacy characters having no business in this story, and worst of all, it feels like a chore to get through. A statement I never personally thought I would be saying about a story taking place in Middle Earth. Simply unfortunate.