Before I start this review, I am going to fess up and say that I have never read, nor had any interest in reading Tolkein. Pages of elvish, even combined with an epic adventure is not something that floats my boat- that said, having watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I eagerly looked forward to this movie.
The Desolation of Smaug continues the quest of the Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves to reclaim the dwarf homeland of Erebor from the dragon Smaug. As you might well imagine this quest is not a simple matter of moving from point A to point B. There is the matter of spiders who seek to make them a meal, Elves who are not happy to have their kingdom invaded and orcs who are on a mission to stop the band of travelers at all cost.
The Desolation of Smaug is visually beautiful at times to watch and though it is clearly fantasy, everything about it feels so real. It easy to immerse oneself in the story and this is a good thing as the movie is two hours and forty minutes long (note: go to the bathroom before the movie starts). It was impossible not to feel the stale death of the forest and want to will the dwarves out of there safely. The barrel river scene in particular is great fun to watch and I found myself wishing it were part of an amusement ride.
Legalos makes his great return in this film and being a fan of Orlando Bloom in this role I was quite happy. I found it interesting that in The Desolation of Smaug he was much changed, which makes sense because this is a prequel. Legalos was downright uptight and arrogant. Peter Jackson also chose to make Legalos larger thus allowing him to truly take over the screen during his epic fight scenes.
The largest addition to the cast came in the form of Tauriel. I found her to be bright, capable and loving. It was sweet to watch the budding romance between Tauriel and Kili. The romance gave us a nice little break in the action and helped to at least separate Kili from the large pack of dwarves. This was necessary as their sheer number at times makes the story difficult to follow. I can only hope that in the third movie we will see more individualization of the dwarves as well as a continuation of the budding romance.
I highly suspect that Benedict Cumberbatch could read the phone book and make it sound like pure evil. Cumberbatch brought life and depth to Smaug making his interactions with Bilbo compelling. At times Smaug was almost seductive. When the dwarves entered the fray I did find that action scene quickly became confusing as there were too many people doing too many different things all at once. I am all in favor of action in a movie of this sort but it should be easy for the viewer to follow. It was particularly ridiculous given that we were told earlier that there is only one way to kill Smaug. From the moment they entered Erebor the mission was doomed to fail no matter how brave the dwarves or Bilbo were.
At times it felt like The Desolation of Smaug just simply dragged on and the dialog felt stilted and strained. I really could have done with far less screen time for Thranduil and hope that we do no revisit his kingdom in the third and final installment of this series. I also don't understand why the dwarves gave up so easily when they weren't able to find the keyhole. Yes, yes, it was another opportunity for Bilbo to be heroic but it was completely unnecessary.
As expected, The Desolation of Smaug ended on a cliff hanger. The problem is that even for someone who has not read the book, it is pretty easy to telegraph how Smaug meets his untimely end. That being said, I am still looking forward to seeing it all play out on the big screen. These movies really aren't about the story which is a good thing because the story is weak. They are all about the fantasy and adventure and if this is your thing, The Desolation of Smaug is entertaining even if the balance between narrative and action at times leaves something to be desired.