Film: The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug

I should have learned my lesson after the first film. But there was enough buzz about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) being an improvement that I decided to give the series another chance. Uh, nope. What a waste.

The Desolation of Smaug is part two of Jackson’s indulgent Middle-earth fan fiction, involving the quest of a band of intrepid dwarves — led by heir apparent Thorin (Richard Armitage) — to reclaim the mountain kingdom of Erebor. Their secret weapon is a brave young hobbit named Bilbo (Martin Freeman). In this installment, Thorin, Bilbo, Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and the rest travel to Erebor to confront Smaug and recover the Arkenstone, which is key to restoring the dwarves to power. Along the way, they argue with elves, battle orcs and giant spiders, and befriend a smuggler. At the end there’s a dragon. I think that about covers it.

Yeah. I really, really disliked this movie. It’s bloated, flat, and dull as rocks. It lacks pace, coherence, and emotional depth. Its setpiece sequences play out like video game levels, full of violence but no jeopardy, since the characters are indestructible. The cinematography is murky and unwelcoming; it’s not even pretty. But mostly, the film lacks character. The series’ one asset in this regard was Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, but The Desolation of Smaug often forgets he exists. The script gives equal weight to unnecessary, padded subplots. One involves Gandalf running around with Radagast (Sylvester McCoy). Another involves an unlikely love triangle between Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), and the dwarf who looks like a grunge rocker from 1990 whose name escapes me.  Even the anonymous mass of CGI orcs tracking the party gets an ineffectual turn on the subplot dance floor. All these diversionary threads do little to enhance the story; they don’t even adequately distract from the fact that the core plot is a straight line with wandering monsters.

Does the film do anything right? I’m disinclined to give it much credit, but forced to choose something I’d single out Tauriel — a female character who may have been conceived to make up for the mishandling of Eowyn in the first trilogy. She is engaging and formidable, and Evangeline Lilly has more charisma than all the dwarves combined. Lee Pace has a fun turn as the nasty elf king Thranduil. And the dragon is impressively rendered.

But those three tick-marks hardly make up for the rest of this mess. I have officially learned my lesson, this time: no more Peter Jackson for me, thank you very much. Yuck.

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