The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2014) Movie Review

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a glorious return to classic Middle-Earth fare: 4/5

 

The questions “Is ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug?’ necessary” and “Is ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ a good movie?” are two completely different questions with two completely different answers.

Even as I say this, you won’t find me complaining about J.R.R. Tolkien’s great book “The Hobbit” being adapted into film, into a trilogy, no less, being a large fan of the source material and the original Lord of the Rings films. Yet, the first film in this new Middle-Earth trilogy received serious, and, as I believe, unnecessary backlash. Yes, that’s right, I significantly enjoyed “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”. However, the film took a beating, with people criticizing it for being too bloated, too long, too dramatic and silly at the same time, and, as aforementioned, completely unnecessary. And while “The Desolation of Smaug” is two and a half hours long and is frankly unnecessary, it’s two and a half hours of unnecessary fun and wonderment.

And not the fun that you may talk about when you’re trying to convince your friends to pop in, turn their brains off, and watch “Transformers”. This is the kind of fun that you experience when you watch “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. This is extremely well-made fun, with intriguing characters, dazzling fight scenes, and some surprisingly emotional moments. This is the movie of the trilogy where you start to see the characters as individuals as you finally see their goal right within reach. This is the movie where you see the beautiful halls of the wood-land elves and the danger of the Black Forest. This is the movie where you finally see the glory and wrath of Smaug the Magnificent. Out of the Frying-Pan and into the fire.

The plot is needless to explain if you’ve seen the first film or read the book. Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) need to make it to the Lonely Mountain to regain their wealth from the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). With the goal so close, each setback seems larger and every battle seems to carry higher stakes, which adds to the direness of the plot and how you care about the characters. And, yes, there are a couple of subplots, including Gandalf (Ian McKellen) leaving the dwarves and travelling to the mysterious Dol Guldur, and one of the dwarves (and my personal favorite) Kili (Aidan Turner) falling in love with the beautiful elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly of “Lost”). To my surprise, each of these subplots are handled with care and finesse, and gives you something to enjoy while you’re not watching large action sequences, although those are pretty damn good too.

This movie is two and a half hours long. There’s no denying that. A usual result of a movie being exceptionally long is that it slows down, and “The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug” is no different. Yet it never truly stops. Every single step is there for a reason, to get Bilbo and the dwarves closer to Smaug. And you’re glad it happens, because the scenes with Smaug are some of the best I’ve seen in a recent fantasy film, including the “Lord of the Rings” itself.

The Bilbo that Martin Freeman portrays is a very familiar one. Mr. Baggins has cemented himself in popular culture as the epitome of the reluctant hero, and Freeman not only acts the part, but looks it too. I think it may be that he has a knack for this sort of role, as he plays Dr. Watson on BBC’s Sherlock, another character similar to that of Bilbo Baggins. He is diminutive, but in a heroic way. His loyalty makes up for his stature. He’d put his life on the line for his friends, and does so several times within the runtime of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”. However, he does not do so fearlessly. The fear in his eye when staring at the dragon Smaug is recognizable. I am pretty sure that this was intentional. To recognize ourselves inside this little hobbit. If a movie hero is simply without fear, than it would not make for a very good hero. Well, unless you’re Sean Connery’s James Bond.

They say that a movie is only as good as its villain. Well, after experiencing Benedict Cumberbatch as the ruthless dragon Smaug, I can very safely say that “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is indeed a very good movie. Benedict Cumberbatch never ceases to surprise me. He can do motion capture for a dragon (which means crawling around on the ground in a special suit, look it up, it’s hilarious), and make it perhaps the best performance in the entire movie. This is probably the first time that there has been a motion capture performance for a dragon of any sort, and therefore makes it the best dragon, and one of the best motion-capture performances, ever on film. Peter Jackson continues to break ground with almost every film.

So, you, dear reader, may still be a skeptic. You may keep the word alive that films in the Hobbit franchise are unnecessary and bloated. However, give “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” a chance. Take a couple of hours out of your time. It deserves it. Chances are, you won’t be complaining for long.

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