**SPOILERS (nothing huge)**
Before I start, I just want to express that this review will be analyzed from two main perspectives: that of a major Tolkien fan, and that of a movie fan.
To put this review into context, I just want to do a very brief summary of how I felt about the first Hobbit film. As a Tolkien fan, I was disappointed by many aspects of the movie. Unlike many people who saw the movie without having read the books, I really enjoyed the ‘slow’ beginning that stayed true to the book. After that, there were many aspects that upset me. However, I was able to forgive a lot of these things because I respect Peter Jackson greatly, and I trust that he has Tolkien’s best interests at heart. I respect that he has been taking liberties. In fact, it actually upsets me when people are upset that the movie they saw is not exactly like the book they’d read. It’s like people who travel from New York to any other city, then complain that they can’t buy a 1 dollar slice of pizza a 3 in the morning. As a moviegoer, An Unexpected Journey left much to be desired. Being the first part of a trilogy that could have arguably been less than 3 movies, the first installment felt a lot like a filler. It lacked a lot of the magic that the Lord of the Rings trilogy had. However, a lot of this was forgivable because it was nice to get back into Middle Earth after so long. Overall, I enjoyed the first movie, but it left a lot to be desired.
And finally, one year later, I was able to see The Desolation of Smaug. I saw this in IMAX 3D (which was absolutely stunning), opening night. And I must say, I loved it. Peter Jackson, you have won me over. Coming out of the theater, I can say with great ease that I loved this movie.
As a Tolkien Fan, I was very pleased with most aspects of the movie. When the movie started, the Tolkien fan in me was very apprehensive. With the opening scene having been taken straight out of Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, I began to relax a bit, but the following scene (with Beorn) left me a little uneasy. The character was not how I pictured him in the book at all. Luckily, the Beorn scene did not last long. Another part that left the Tolkien fan in me feeling uneasy was the spider fight. In the book, this is Bilbo’s big moment of courage and heroism. In the movie, he is courageous, but no more than anyone else in the scene.
After this however, it only got better. Between, the barrel ride (amazing), Lake Town (just like I pictured it), Bard (fantastic), Dol Guldur (incredible scenes in there), and Smaug (brilliant), the Tolkien fan part of me is proud to say that I am incredibly overjoyed by this move. Jackson was able to bring more of Tolkien’s story to life, while still making a movie that average moviegoers will like.
That brings us to the part of this review where I will discuss the movie’s value as a movie (as opposed to as a representation of Tolkien’s book). As a movie, this triumphs. This movie keeps its momentum throughout the whole 3 hour running time. The story is really packed and full. This movie (unlike the previous one, which felt needlessly stretched) makes me understand Jackson’s choice to make this a trilogy.
The acting in this movie is really something great. The actors who stand out the most are Martin Freeman (Bilbo), Benedict Cumberbatch (Smaug), Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf), and Luke Evans (Bard). Martin Freeman brings the same magic to the character as he did in the first movie, which was no surprise. Cumberbatch’s Smaug was incredible. The voice was booming, terrifying, witty, and overall amazing. Sir Ian McKellen is always amazing, so I was not surprised by his performance. Luke Evans was a surprise though. I have seen movies he’s been in (Immortals, Fast and Furious 6), but I don’t remember him in them. He brought a good level of depth to the character that I was impressed with.
Where the movie really excels — and when I say really excels I mean REALLY EXCELS — is in its animation. WETA digital has outdone themselves yet again. This movie has some of the best CGI, if not THE best CGI, that I have ever seen. Throughout the whole movie there are scenes with incredible animation (especially Gandalf’s visit to Dol Guldur), but the CGI climaxes with Smaug. The animation for Smaug was absolutely brilliant. The level of detail was completely astounding. And the animation for the giant piles of gold was fantastic. You can really see the hundreds of hours of editing that have been put into this movie. I cannot stress enough how fantastic the effects were in this movie.
Overall, The Desolation of Smaug really shines. It improves upon almost all negative aspects from An Unexpected Journey, and brings us a unique feel for middle, that is different from LOTR, and yet has most of the same feel. Jackson has done it again with this movie, and I look forward to the next and final movie, There and Back Again (December 17th, 2014) greatly.