Well color me surprised. I’ve certainly hated a sequel before (i.e. Kick-Ass 2, The Hangover: Part II), and I’ve also liked some sequels a bit better than the originals (i.e. The Dark Knight, Skyfall). But never have I ever had a complete 180, from absolutely despising the first film to subsequently — dare I say it — loving its sequel. God damn it, Peter Jackson, you’ve redeemed yourself.
“The Desolation Of Smaug” is wonderfully entertaining, suitably epic, and excitingly fantastical, and I’m certainly happy to report that as a fan of “The Lord Of The Rings” and as someone who vehemently hated “An Unexpected Journey,” Jackson has improved greatly upon the faults of his first film that makes an experience that is both satisfying yet leaves you undeniably excited for the next and final installment.
I felt for none of these dwarves last time, but that has finally changed. The dwarves are more fleshed out, and one of them even gets a romance that could’ve been hackneyed, but is so well-acted and well-done that it serves as the heart of the film. Gandalf takes a backseat to the action this time, which I think is probably a good thing, because he really didn’t have much to do last time, and this time around, he slows the movie down a bit whenever he shows up. Bilbo grows as a protagonist as does Martin Freeman as the actor who plays him. Freeman excellently works alongside one of the best CGI creations to come along in a very long time, and gives us a witty, fun hero to root for. Fantastic additions to the cast include the return of Legolas and his female counterpart, the new role of Tauriel. Both roles are incredibly fun to watch, with fantastical bow-and-arrow action that makes for some of the most exciting of the year. The great thing about the “Desolation Of Smaug” is that it builds up believable and lovable human (and elvish) characters around the dwarves that we can relate to and get invested in, something the first film lacked dearly as it spent three hours with a baker’s dozen of walking dwarves.
The action in the film feels more defined and more important now. The set-pieces are well crafted and recognizable, in particular a roaringly fun and ridiculously awesome barrel sequence that will surely be talked about after the film finishes its lengthy yet never boring 2 hour 41 minute runtime. Then finally comes along the dragon we’ve been waiting to get to for 1.5 movies: Smaug. While Cumberbatch’s voice work as Smaug is hardly Cumberbatch and really anyone who can grumble threateningly would do, Smaug is a CGI marvel. I didn’t expect to be wowed by yet another CGI creature, but Peter Jackson has created such an excellent understanding of scale that Smaug seems huge, looming, threatening, all-powerful, and awesome in every shot. Every minute we spend with him and Bilbo is unbelievably fun. And we do spend quite a handful of minutes with them.
Of course, this is a middle chapter, building up to something much bigger and grander with next year’s finale “There And Back Again”, so in that sense, there’s not much of a standalone plot. But as a continuation of what came before, this film so vastly improves upon its predecessor to the point where its actually something I wouldn’t mind revisiting. It’s simple entertainment, perhaps lacking the thematic and emotional richness of Jackson’s original trilogy, but more than making up for it with an incredible sense of fun and a final cut-to-black that nearly made me scream. If this rate of improvement continues, “There And Back Again” might just be amazing.
FINAL GRADE: 8/10