Does Peter Jackson's middle Hobbit flick suffer from "second movie syndrome", or will it silence those not convinced by An Unexpected Journey? Read on for my take, with some well signposted SPOILERS.

The second installments in movie trilogies are often considered the weakest. Tasked with the job of carrying the momentum forward from the first film but leaving enough to ensure a satisfactory finale is set up, they can often seem a bit...uneventful. Fortunately that is not the case with The Desolation Of Smaug - although it must be said that those who raged against the decision to turn Tolkien's novel into three movies might have some more ammo come the ending.

This time Peter Jackson begins with an interesting flashback of the first meeting of Thorin and Gandalf, and from there we're straight into the action as Bilbo and co. flee Azog and his orcs. We meet (far too briefly) Beorn the skin changer, and then we're off again to Mirkwood and some very nasty spiders. The Desolation Of Smaug continues on like this for pretty much its entire runtime - and that's not a bad thing! Although I really enjoyed An Unexpected Journey, there is no doubt that it dragged at times. That's not to say there aren't any lulls in the action for some dramatic character moments, but even these scenes have a sense of urgency that the first movie lacked at times (I'm looking at you Council Of Elrond).

Obviously Jackson and his writers take a few liberties with the source story to pad things out and introduce some characters that were not in the novel, but in the case of Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) at least I can't imagine many complaints. She's one of the highlights of the movie and her burgeoning romance with Kili (Aidan Turner) is actually quite sweet and never seems forced. Luke Evans also does a fine job as Bard - a character that actually gets much more to do in this movie than he did in the novel! Then of course we have the return of Orlando Bloom as a younger, more aggressive and, well, dickish doubt influenced by his even more dickish father Thranduil (Lee Pace). These are all welcome additions though, as the Elven scraps provide some of the most thrilling set pieces. Another is that barrel ride glimpsed in the trailers and so familiar to Tolkien fans; this time with a added Orc/Elf arrow battle for good measure. This brings us to the titular beast. Benedict Cumberbatch's Smaug will undoubtedly go down as one of (if not THE) best screen dragons ever, bringing a malicious intelligence and ferocity to an incredibly realized CG creation. His scene with Bilbo is a joy to watch, and what follows is a chaotic scramble of fire and dust as the dwarves try to stay ahead of Smaug's wrath.

No, action junkies will have little to complain about..though this does bring me to what I really didn't like about the movie. Peter Jackson just can't seem to help adding completely ridiculous, physics defying pratfalling to certain scenes. Dwarves tumble into oh so conveniently placed barrels/forges/holes, before rolling through orcs like a bowling ball etc. A bit of this is fine of course - but it just goes too far. For instance..


Towards the end Thorin winds up literally falling onto Smaug's snout. All the dragon has to do is snap once and his enemy is dead...but instead he just sort of hovers there looking at the dwarf until the others have a chance to throw stuff on top of him. Then after that Thorin is swinging right in front of him on a chain..chatting away! EAT HIM DAMMIT! It's just plain silly, and it removes any sense of real danger from what up to that point has been a pretty tense final battle overall.


So yeah, that stuff really annoys me but if you don't mind it then you could probably add a star to the four below, because The Desolation Of Smaug is a great time overall. Another gorgeous looking (do see it in IMAX if you can) journey to Middle Earth, with a great returning cast and some very welcome additions. As I said, the cliffhanger ending may piss a few people off, but if the third and final film can live up to what these previous installments have build up, we will be in for a treat. "This generations' Star Wars prequel trilogy"? Not even close boys, not even close.

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