Benedict Cumberbatch Breathes Fire Into The Desolation of Smaug
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug slips some clever storytelling into a ridiculously energetic extravaganza.
If you are a Tolkien fan, you should love this. Even if you are a purist, and believe any deviation from the source material is sacrilegious, you should enjoy this. You should enjoy it because it is not the book. An alternate title to this review could be “how I learned to relax and love The Hobbit movies.” If you fall into this camp, and you have reservations or this is leaving you feeling perturbed let me briefly explain what they are doing with these movies. When Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, he didn’t have the entire history of Middle Earth and the story of The One Ring. It was an idea he had, but it didn’t have any life of its own. The Hobbit was the very beginning, and at the time, the end. Tolkien then went on to create the whole of Middle Earth and the history behind nearly every event and character. What the movie is trying to do is imagine what The Hobbit story would look like, if it were written after that history had been established. Now if you take that, add the standard modification to make an entertaining movie, and we should all be on the same page. I’m going to drop that topic now, but suffice it to say, if you can’t let go that there are fundamental differences in the two mediums you are not going to have a good time.
The second installment of this trilogy picks up the pace from the first. This wouldn’t be very hard considering how slow the first film was paced. In addition to a faster pace there is also much more exposition for the overall story. Included in this exposition was the addition of several characters, some of whom made brief appearances in the first film. Those being Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), Thranduil (Lee Pace), Smaug and The Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch), Bard (Luke Evans), The Master of Laketown (Stephen Fry),and Bolg (Lawrence Makoare). The cast is now as massive as the stories they are telling, and every member of this cast handles themselves and their parts beautifully. Except Orlando Bloom, he was dry and uninteresting, much like his first appearance. It wasn’t a bad performance, and I may be attributing the some character traits of Legolas to Bloom, but I don’t’ think so.
After a brief flashback to Bree 12 months previous with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Thorin (Richard Armitage), the story picks up on the edge of the Mirkwood, where An Unexpected Journey left off. Still pursued by orcs they find temporary refuge with Beorn the skin-changer (Mikael Persbrandt) who helps them reach the Mirkwood. After a distressing discovery, Gandalf leaves the party to investigate Dol Guldur with Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy). While in Dol Guldur Gandalf encounters and discovers the identity of The Necromancer. (This sequence of events is worth the price of admission alone) While Gandalf plays with his new friend, Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Thorin (Richard Armitage), Balin (Ken Stott), Dwalin (Graham McTavish), Bifur (William Kircher), Bofur (James Nesbitt), Bombur (Stephen Hunter), Fili (Dean O’Gorman), Kili (Aidan Turner), Oin (John Callen), Gloin (Peter Hambleton), Nori (Jed Brophy), Dori (Mark Hadlow), and Ori (Adam Brown), meet new friends in the Mirkwood. Among those friends are Legolas and Tauriel. When they manage to escape these newfound friends, they end up in Laketown with the help of Bard the bowman, and from Laketown they make their way to the lonely mountain where they meet a very friendly dragon named Smaug.
There are in this sequence of events some incredible action sequences. More than enough case scenes, and some top-notch combat choreography. As well as some gratuitous slapstick, just in case you forgot this is actually a children’s story. I cringe slightly when slapstick humor is used in an action sequence. It can pull an audience out of the action faster than a Rustabell Rabbit. That did happen, slightly, here. However, the overall tone of these scenes, and for that matter the overall film, fits in with the tone of that humor in the way it was presented. In other words, I didn’t like it, but I can forgive that, because it fits and was well done. I can also forgive some of the more gratuitous action sequences. They were exciting and entertaining to watch, even though they did little to propel the story.
While speaking of elements that were well done, the addition of Taurel was most welcome. She is an incredibly interesting character, and far more entertaining to watch. She is the first, and I believe only character to be entirely created for the film. I would assume she was created because there was a definite need for some romantic tension, and one can only take so many beards. Evangeline Lilly was an unmitigated pleasure to watch mangle, dispatch orcs, and flirt with dwarves. She was my second, well, a close third favorite part of this film. That would lead to my second favorite part, Gandalf in Dol Guldur. Not only do we see Gandalf taking on the Necromancer on his own, but also Azog (Manu Bennett).
Finally, what is probably going to be a universal favorite, Smaug. There is a shortage of truly spectacular cinematic dragons. This is the high mark for dragons in film. The effectiveness of Smaug I believe stems from the use of motion capture on Benedict Cumberbatch to map the face of the dragon. It seems unusual to say, but you can see the extreme variations in his facial expression on a purely CGI dragon. To see a dragon smirk and show distinct emotions like amusement and rage, followed by bemused arrogance is truly awesome.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug receives 8.5 of 10 dwarves from me, it is as entertaining as it is fascinating, and amazing to behold, in spite of its shortcomings.