‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ Review
There comes a time when we must stop kidding ourselves. These 'Hobbit' films – with 'The Desolation of Smaug' representing the shank of the trilogy – are not real movies. These are exploitation films for Tolkien nuts, for enthusiasts of the original 'Lord of the Rings' movies and for audiences so hungry for high fantasy they'll gobble up whatever is served to them and ask for seconds.
As someone who has sympathy, but not empathy, for those who have such proclivities, I can get why someone might come away liking this picture. But that is more of an involuntary reaction to exposure to certain elements, not the summation of a film. Listen, there's a grey-bearded wizard who warns in low tones about a place that sounds like “Doggledoor.” And there's someone referred to as “Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror.” I love that geekorama stuff more than most. It's hilarious, and I'll probably refer to my cat as “Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror” for the next week. But this movie doesn't cohere – there's no forward momentum, no character development, no story happening. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fibber.
Does this mean there's nothing of merit in 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug'? Quite the contrary. The dragon of the title – voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch and rendered by the furthest advances of computer science – is the bomb. Smaug is, undoubtedly, the coolest movie dragon ever. He's sly and foreboding and his massive stature is quite palpable. My disbelief was suspended like a kid setting off firecrackers in study hall.
Too bad it takes about two hours to get to him. Before that you've got a whole lot of nothing. A bunch of interchangeable dwarfs running from things. Well, they're not all interchangeable. There's the really fat one with red hair and the really old one with grey hair. Then there's the handsome one that's supposed to remind you of Viggo Mortensen from the last series (the aforementioned Thorin) and another handsome one named Kili.
I don't specifically recall Kili doing much in the first 'Hobbit' picture, but in this one he catches the eye of an elven warrior named Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the two almost have a scene with a modicum of spark and spontaneity to it. But there's no time for any character development, there's more running to be had.
There is, unquestionably, a remarkable action sequence for the ages in 'The Desolation of Smaug' – a moment where the dwarves are in barrels, careening through rapids as orcs pounce on them and elves fire arrows everywhere. It is highly reminiscent of the big chase at the end of 'The Adventures of Tintin,' which 'The Hobbit''s Peter Jackson produced with Steven Spielberg. Prior to this, there's also some cool, gross action with giant spiders, but, I tell yah, in between it's a rough, dull slog.
There aren't any dwarves singing and doing dishes in this one, and while that was a bone of contention for many, I would have preferred a little bit of that spring in the movie's step. Instead we have a second act where we're introduced to a slew of new characters in a drab setting. Stephen Fry appears, gets a scene to ramble about things not germane to the plot, and basically disappears. When one of the dwarves oversleeps and misses a boat trip, anyone who hasn't read the books (or just watched the first 'Hobbit') will ask, “Who's this guy? Why do I care that he overslept?”
I can't fully dismiss any movie with a giant talking dragon, but I must confess that I found the last film superior. And I didn't even like that one that much.
'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' hits theaters December 13.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.