If you’re the kind of guy who likes movies where things happen, then you’re going to be very happy with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. That’s in stark contrast to last year’s The Hobbit: The Movie Where A Bunch of Dwarfs Hang Out For A While. There was some decent action with trolls and goblins in the film, but director Peter Jackson–returning to his J.R.R. Tolkien source material after his Lord of the Rings trilogy–wasn’t in a hurry to get to the fantastical action that made The Hobbit a classic book.
This second entry begins with the director sneering at his audience in the opening shot. You get a cameo from Jackson in all of his films, but this one seems to be him saying, “Okay, here’s the action you wanted…” We’re owed that action, too. The first Hobbit movie seemed to mostly be padding for the trilogy–which began as a fairly short book about a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins helping dwarfs regain their kingdom from the evil dragon Smaug. Fortunately, the first Hobbit chapter proved that Jackson is still an amiable filmmaker who can hold an audience’s interest. It also proved that the Hobbit audience could be very patient with setting up a second entry that promised lots of epic battles in fantasy settings.
Jackson was smart enough to close the first Hobbit with the ominous sight of Smaug the Dragon awakening. All you saw was the dragon’s eye, but it was a really big eye. This follow-up doesn’t waste any time bringing in other threats, too. There’s a giant spider invasion that pretty much gives everyone their money’s worth in the first hour of the movie. We also get to meet the lovely Evangeline Lilly as the token female elf Tauriel–who’s been added to the story by Jackson as a token female role model, but also provides quality romantic drama as part of a dwarf/elf love triangle.
Peter Jackson is still the master of epic slapstick action scenes, and Smaug really shows his expertise at balancing the mayhem with quieter moments. Of course, it helps that we’re now far enough into Tolkein’s book that Jackson has to cram in all kinds of craziness to get his characters to Lake-town for the next installment. There’s so much going on that even veteran Tolkien fans might be surprised when this latest entry ends on a cliffhanger. The final chapter, however, promises Jackson’s most crazed battle scenes yet. Smaug does a lot to get the audience anticipating that one.
The most important thing, though, is that casual movie fans don’t have to watch the first Hobbit movie to catch up here. The script does a fine job of recapping all the vital plot points. Jackson’s first Hobbit movie may have been plodding, but it was still a big international hit. The filmmakers didn’t have to bother with helping the audience catch up with the plot.
It’s a smart move, though. Smaug offers a lot more action for the casual moviegoer, and this is the movie for guys who got scared away from the first chapter’s running time of 182 minutes. The Desolation of Smaug is a much more economical 161 minutes–with everyone left wanting more.