Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Lee Pace, Luke Evans
Plot: Bilbo Baggins and the dwarfs continue their quest towards reclaiming Erebor, encountering many obstacles along the way, including orcs, elves, giant spiders and a huge dragon.
Review: The second instalment of The Hobbit is a step up from the previous one. Whilst An Unexpected Journey was a bit draggy at times, The Desolation Of Smaug feels much more kinetic as Peter Jackson kicks up the pace into a higher gear, while at the same time dispensing some good drama to go with it.
As with the previous film, the special effects and cinematography are excellent, so there's no need for me to elaborate further on that. I can tell you that the sense of urgency is much more obvious this time, which did the film a lot of good. The tone is definitely darker as the group faces hurdle after hurdle on their journey, from Shelob's ancestors to the fierce orcs from the last instalment, to unfriendly elves led by King Thranduil and lastly, the big bad himself, Smaug the dragon. In line with all this, the action sequences are awesome to behold. The best one has to be the barrel in the river sequence, where Bilbo and the dwarves travel down the river in empty barrels while being pursued by orcs and elves. It's a breathless sequence that hasn't been seen since the final fight in Fellowship Of The Ring.
Of the cast, Richard Armitage is still the top guy in my eyes. Even though Martin Freeman's Bilbo gets a lot of attention here, always being the guy that gives the dwarves their edge in a dire situation, it is Armitage's Thorin Oakenshield that shines the brightest. Thorin is a leader that is simply trying to do right by his people, and along the way he is forced to make a few tough decisions. Armitage's facial expressions truly fit the burden Thorin carries. Freeman on the other hand gets to have fun while showing slowly but surely, his corruption from holding that ring too long. Ian McKellen gets less screentime here as Gandalf, going off on his own on a mission at the beginning, but still commands presence whenever he comes on.
Evangeline Lilly plays Tauriel, an elf character not created by Tolkien, who is feisty and brave. She is a lot like her character Kate from Lost. As good as she is though, Orlando Bloom outshines her as the badass Legolas, who wasn't in this book, but shows up to dispense orcs in awesome fashion. Unfortunately Bloom is unable to hide the fact that he's much older now, no matter how much makeup he puts on. Lee Pace puts in an interesting performance as Legolas' father Thranduil, who is rather eccentric compared to the Rivendell elves. Luke Evans makes his time count as Bard, a bargeman who assists the dwarves in the last third of the film, and Benedict Cumberbatch lends his voice as Smaug, though with all the echoing effects they did to it to imitate a dragon's sound, you can't even tell it's him, which is rather pointless in my opinion.
As it turns out, The Desolation Of Smaug is a fine improvement from An Unexpected Journey. The cliffhanger ending is not pleasant for sure, but it will make you anxious for the finale next year. Recommended. (4/5)