The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (★★½)

hobbit_the_desolation_of_smaugIf there’s one thing that seems to bother folks most about my taste in film, it’s the fact that I just don’t care for any movies set in Middle Earth. None of the three Lord of the Rings films did anything from me (yes, even The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which is one of the most overrated Best Picture winners of all time in my eyes), and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey proved last year to be one of the more boring flicks of 2012. Now, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is hitting theaters and…well, I didn’t overtly hate it. It’s still incredibly boring, slowly paced, repetitious, un-involving, and full of video game like action sequences, but this time around, individual issues bothered me slightly less. Peter Jackson‘s least necessary Lord of the Rings/Hobbit film yet (seriously, it’s basically a 161 minute teaser for the next one, The Hobbit: There and Back Again) should have been the one that did the least for me, but I suppose almost by default it’s my “favorite” yet. Don’t take that as anything close to a recommendation (I pretty much gave all of the original three lukewarm two and a half star ratings like this one, while last year’s launch of this prequel trilogy barely got two stars from me), but if you’re a fan of this series, trust me…this one was made for you. All others need not apply in the slightest, though perhaps those of you like myself will find this one at least a touch more tolerable to sit through.

After a brief prologue (because of course, we have to stretch things out), we join Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandolf (Ian McKellen), and their dwarf friends, including Thorin (Richard Armitage), as they continue on their journey to go and reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from the dragon Smaug (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch). Along the way, they’ll wander and get lost in a forest full of spiders, meet some very moody elves, including an old/new friend (Orlando Bloom), and do a very bad job of going more than a few minutes without stopping on this supposedly very important quest. There are action scenes galore, but only one, a battle between the gang, the elves, and some orcs, that does much, along with a lot of wasted time. Things pick up for a bit once Bilbo meets Smaug, but just like when he met Gollum last time around, things don’t stay interesting for very long. Jackson does choose to end at a frustrating/interesting point though, so at least he doesn’t try to go for the dozen endings thing again…yet.

The-Hobbit-Smaug-4The acting is fine, but has always seemed a little self important in this series, which remains the case here. The closest thing to an exception is Martin Freeman, who almost appears to goof off at times, which gives things a touch of levity. Freeman is best in show for me, but it’s not exactly a powerhouse performance or anything of the sort. I personally also found things to like with Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice performance as Smaug, since I was curious to find out how that would go. It’s not a classic bit of voice acting, but he seems to be having fun. As for the rest, Ian McKellen again is the walking deus ex machina that is Gandolf, Richard Armitage is the morose Thorin, and Orlando Bloom kills a lot of orcs and spiders as Legolas. The big newcomer is Evangeline Lilly, but I can’t say that she adds anything to the proceedings. Also on hand we have a ton of folks, including Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, and Lee Pace, but I can’t say that any of them did much for me. It’s not a movie that’s particularly about the cast.

However much money was spent on this flick, and it’s surely a lot, credit where credit is due: Jackson puts it all up there on the screen. His direction is visually interesting, if repetitive during the action scenes. I do wish that his script wasn’t totally stretched out though. Along with his co-writers Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh, and initial director Guillermo del Toro, Jackson seems to want to milk every last second out of this franchise, which kills any chance of pacing. Whenever things threaten to pick up, they just slow down again. Middle entries in a franchise often feel like they’re setting things up for more to come, but rarely do they seem to offer as little as they do here. Still, like I said above, it’s not a painful viewing experience at least.

Overall, I was not a fan of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but I didn’t check my watch every five seconds either. I’ve come this far, so next year I’ll be seeing how it all ends, but I am ready for Middle Earth to go bye bye. It’s high time for that, at least so Jackson can try some other projects again. In short, if you like this franchise, you’ll like what’s on display here. If not, why bother? You’ll have no trouble making up your mind, I’m sure…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!