The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is Long and Lacking a Lot of Gandalf

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and a band of dwarfs are on the run from a horde of orcs. When they finally reach the forests of Mirkwood, Gandalf separates from the group, needing to investigate the Necromancer of Dol Guldur. Meanwhile, Bilbo and the dwarfs get into some trouble with a nest of spiders before stumbling into the hands of Thranduil (Lee Pace), elf leader of Mirkwood. They then escape to Lake Town right outside of the Lonely Mountain, where they finally come face-to-face with the treasure-obsessed dragon, Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Where The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was slow because it set up backstory for Bilbo, Gandalf, and Thorin, The Desolation of Smaug did the exact opposite. It was almost like the movie’s screenwriters tried to overcorrect from the criticism about there being very little action to move the plot along in the first film. Don’t get me wrong, The Desolation of Smaug still felt slow (because it’s nearly three hours long and has a lot of filler). While we got faster moments in this film, we sadly saw very little development for the main characters.

Unfortunately, the decision to not expand upon those stories in the sequel makes the movie seem kind of shallow. Oh, sure! The action was better this time around. But when it’s just constant action and very little time for reflection, it’s no better than the stereotypical action films whose only real merit is “Well, it was entertaining.”

What I want to know is why we weren’t shown more scenes of Bilbo and Gandalf bonding. From the way Frodo spoke of their relationship in The Fellowship of the Ring, you’d expect that they really developed a great friendship on this journey. That has yet to be seen. I understand that Gandalf isn’t with them for most of the time because of where this movie’s plot comes from in the book (which sucks for these movies because watching Ian McKellen is half of the draw), but this better get fixed in the third. I want to see their friendship blossom the way I saw the Aragorn/Legolas/Gimli, Merry/Pip, and Frodo/Sam friendships grow.

Speaking of Legolas, I wasn’t annoyed when I heard that he’d be in this movie. I mean, he is Thranduil’s son, and Thranduil plays a part in The Hobbit. Plus, it’s a nice way to work in another LOTR character who non-book reading fans recognize. At the same time, Legolas serves no purpose in this movie other than being angsty and having cool fight scenes. Hopefully, he (and Lee Pace’s Thranduil, who I want to see more of) will play a slightly bigger role in the third film since the Battle of the Five Armies is coming.

And then there’s Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). Yeeeaaaaah. Not feeling her. Like Legolas, she’s an awesome fighter. But as the only female character of mention in this movie (who, by the way, was added by the writers), she’s kind of…insulting. You see, Tolkien’s books were very male-dominant, which whatever. The Hobbit was written in the 1930s, and Lord of the Rings was written in the 1950s, if that tells you anything about the role of women. What irritates me is that the screenwriters thought, “Hey, we should have more female representation in this film,” and then added a character (who wasn’t in the book) that was basically just a love interest for Legolas and Kili. So what if she’s a great fighter if she doesn’t have a personality or a backstory. Somehow, that’s worse than not having women at all.

But enough about elves. Let’s be honest, the real reason why we all wanted to see this movie was because of Smaug the Dragon, who’s voiced by sex god Benedict Cumberbatch. First of all, holy wow. The CGI work on Smaug is impeccable. All of his movements, the scales on his body, the way he talks without it seeming cheesy—you can tell that a lot of time (and money) went into creating Smaug. Not only was Smaug terrifying and intelligent, but he was also kind of sexy with the deep, scary, Cumberbatch voice (God, I have problems). Oh, Smaug, the stupendous indeed.

Fun fact: Cumberbatch also voices the Necromancer (*cough* Sauron), who makes his appearance in this film while Gandalf is investigating Dol Guldur. I thought it was very cool how the filmmakers made Sauron the pupil in the all-seeing eye. It was one of those, “Oh, I get it!” moments.

And because The Desolation of Smaug is the second installment in the (unnecessary) trilogy, we’re left on a cliffhanger at the end of the movie. Smaug has left the Lonely Mountain after being tricked by Bilbo, Thorin, and the dwarfs and is headed to destroy Lake Town. Cut to black. Ahhhhhh!

Now, for some random observations:

  • Bard (Luke Evans) looks like a ripoff of Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • The dwarfs were so much easier to keep track of in the book. I really only recognize Thorin, Balin, Kili, Fili, and Bombur. The rest all blend together after a while.
  • More creepy-ass spiders! Ugh, ugh, ugh!
  • Seriously, why do we need to CGI all of the orcs? Azog the Defiler would look so much better if they relied on makeup and costuming, like they did with the Uruk-hai in the LOTR movies.

Overall, this movie was entertaining and a good setup for There and Back Again The Battle of the Five Armies, but for some reason, I find it extremely lacking. It’s funny, it’s faster than An Unexpected Journey, and it’s got an awesome dragon, but there’s little emotional substance, and there’s barely any growth with the characters introduced in the first film. Also, why can’t we see more Ian McKellen doing Gandalf things? Give me more Gandalf, damn it!

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: B

For my radio review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug on “Pat & JT,” visit this link (starts around 20:33).

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