‘Desolation’ succeeds as Jackson’s bombastic, irresistible vision

Desolation succeeds as Jacksons bombastic, irresistible vision

Sam Lineberger

Nary an Internet chatroom was spared the collective, exasperated groans of the Tolkien faithful when it was announced that the fiercely anticipated upcoming “Hobbit” film series would be split into not two, but three chapters.

Suffice it to say, the wailing fanbase did have a point. Look what happened with “The Godfather III”, “Return of the Jedi”, “The Matrix Revolutions”, “Spiderman 3”, “X-Men: The Last Stand” and countless others – though for the sake of argument I’ll put “Return of the King” out of mind for a moment.The_Hobbit_-_The_Desolation_of_Smaug_theatrical_poster

More often than not, third movies end up as the dumping ground for ideas that never made it into the first two installments of the trilogy in question.

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is only the second in the “Hobbit” series, but it follows the pattern of material being concentrated in the first two chapters, which is concerning for Tolkien fans when the source material is so slim.

One change – which, admittedly, most consider an improvement – is that where 2012’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” seemed to be stretched too thin, “Desolation of Smaug” is stuffed to the gills.

The abundant action sequences are better choreographed and more exciting than – dare I say it – even anything in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth thrives in detail, thanks again to splendid, digitally enhanced New Zealand. The plot skips along so nicely that even the most casual fan might not mind the near three hour runtime.

The biggest issue with “Smaug” isn’t the concentration of the material, but the quality thereof.
Too many subplots focus on characters that were an afterthought at best, if not wholly nonexistent in Tolkien’s beloved classic. Legolas, reprised by a less-spry Orlando Bloom, appears only to serve as jealous lover of Tauriel, another artificially-injected, sex-appeal token played by Evangeline Lilly. Kili, a handsome dwarf, steals both our hearts and screen time as the wounded hero and final element in the film’s highly unnecessary love triangle.

All this goes to say that there’s a lot of fluff, so much that even the iconic scenes derived cleanly from the source novel – for example the run-in with the shapeshifting Beorn – come off as breaks in the primary action: the retrieval of one mysterious and inexplicably important “Arkenstone.”

That said, Smaug the Stupendous is entirely captivating. Rising superstar actor Benedict Cumberbatch breathes fire into the eponymous serpentine villain with all the fiery charisma one could hope for.

Every great fantasy film needs an iconic villain, and Cumberbatch’s Smaug makes for a refreshing change over the duller Azog who sent our stout travelers scattering throughout “An Unexpected Journey.” Though this middle slice of the journey is as delightfully rough-and-tumble as the first, an injection of invigorating motivation makes the difference here.

Though “Desolation,” like “Unexpected Journey” before it, more or less fails as a direct adaptation, the irresistible draw of Middle Earth is inescapable. I’ll whine with the best of them about Jackson’s liberty taking, but by the time the credits roll, I’m still in love with this marvelous film world.

Rating: three-and-a-half out of five stars

Story by Sam Lineberger, A&E Reporter