Having just got back from The Hobbit 2: Desolation of Smaug, I feel three things.
- A great sense of relief this film isn't bad
- Slightly dizzy
- A strong hope the people in charge of pacing weren't paid well.
(Warning, will contain spoilers...If anyone doesn't know the plot to the Hobbit at this point)
So yeah, as you can tell, I liked it, it was good, maybe even great. Unfortunately I now need to launch into the inevitable comparison between it and the Lord of the Rings trilogy of 12 years ago, and that seems to make every reviewer look like they are backtracking on their opinions.
As I stated in my Films of the Year: 2012 awards I really dig the concept of these three Hobbit films. A 9 hour walk around one of my favourite children's books and one of the richest mythologies in Fantasy all with a really good budget off the back of what was ostensibly the 2000s Star Wars ( in place of actual Star Wars). That sounds incredible, and indulgent...Incredibly indulgent. And where that is great for the child who loves Tolkien in me, I have some trouble reconciling that with the Film Critic in me.
The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy are different beasts set within the same universe. I think the films reflect that fairly well, the clearest example is obviously in the actions scenes. There is a roughly 7 minute water rapids barrel chase in the Hobbit 2, it contains a whole minute of Bombur (the fat ginger dwarf) being jettisoned out of the water and bouncing from Orc to Orc, before going whirling dervish and leaping back into the water.
There is good, good reason we never saw this in LOTR.
The point I'm trying to make is that this is fine, because it is an adventure story, way more so than LOTR ever was. Other than making me dizzy (which is probably more a sign I'm getting too old than any bad shooting on Jackson's part) the action is really solid, and very frequent. Legolas must get through at least 50 fatalities in this film. Speaking of Legolas, remember those dorky Skateboard kills he made in the Lord of the Rings films? He does those here and it seems completely in keeping with the world.
I consider it a victory in the fight for equality that Bloom was forced to do the ass pose.
Now the obvious problem I thought this film might have in story is being the middle 150 pages of a children's book. Lacking a beginning and end would be an expected problem; however, just as the end of the 1st film was quite strong and well rounded, the opening of the second is acceptable. There is one unnecessary flashback with a bit too much face-zooming and a clear throwback to that one really great scene in Bree from the Fellowship, but other than that it hits the ground running and doesn't feel particularly bad for it.
One criticism would definitely be too much face-zooming.
The ending is definitely lacking however. It managed to achieve a basically impossible feat by seeming both too drawn out and yet ending too abruptly. Incredible really. Like I also foreshadowed, I think the pacing was god awful, making what should have been unquestionably amazing scenes seem slightly lacking, though still great as scenes by themselves.
These are the two paragraphs is the one where I talk about how it ends, avoid if you don't want to know where it ends: So after a really, really drawn out (though visually stunning) action scene between Smaug, Bilbo and the Dwarves; Smaug works out that the Dwarves were armed by the people of Lake-Town and goes to destroy them, flying out of Erebor and heading towards the town...And yeah, that is it. Martin Freeman goes "What have we done?" and it ends.
I personally feel the Smaug/Dwarf confrontation could easily have been left out. It felt too CGI, it was never going to be filmed conventionally, and its impact upon the dragon was minimal. The scene where Bilbo and Smaug talk was perfect. Everything after that felt unnecessary, no-one went through any character arc, not even Thorin, he did all that while talking to Bilbo. I think it was a poor choice. But yes, the third is now well and truly set for the battle of Lake-Town.
You can start reading again now.
Here I will talk about characters I feel weren't done well or didn't get enough screentime.
Orlando Bloom No.2 as Bard the Bowman.
So Luke Evans, at least too me looks identical to Orlando Bloom in Pirates of the Carribean. This confused me immensely in the 2011 Three Musketeers film where they appeared together, and consequently it has done so in this.
I don't have much to say about LE's performance of Bard the Bowman, he just acted like Will Turner for a while. It was a pretty acceptable acting role. I'll talk about Legolas quickly here as well; they've made him look younger and act way more broody in this to reflect the fact he is at a different stage in his life. His eyes look weird and he does a bunch of pirouettes at one stage...It looks really impressive if I wasn't almost certain it was CGI.
Stephen Fry as The Master of Lake-Town
It is nice that Stephen Fry is in Middle-Earth, I just don't know why he is playing a Black-Adder character. I think me and Peter Jackson must have interpreted the Master of Lake-Town differently. I don't even remember laughing at any of his multiple jokes about Democracy. A much more obvious straw-man than Thranduil.
Evangeline Lily as Tauriel.
Not in the original book, but created (I assume) to add a female into a cast massively dominated by males. She disappointingly falls into the Healer role in act 3 but gets a healthy number of fight scenes throughout the second act. She has an inter-racial love plot with the Dwarf Kili which is perhaps one of the highlights of the most "LOTR"-esque moments of the film.
Contrary to what you might think after this article. I don't spend a lot of time on confession tumblrs.
Mikael Persbrandt as Beorn
Didn't appear for long enough, hopefully gets an amazing action scene in film three. Given the amount of action scenes given to Legolas, I can't help but feel slightly cheated. The portrayal itself was really quite good.
Sylvester McCoy as My Boy Radagast the Brown.
Not a new character but I want to state that this character does not appear enough. Where was my Radagast and Gandalf buddy-cop side plot!!
Truth to the source material.
I've seen complaints about the source material faithfulness around the Internet, and while I abstain from looking at reviews until I've done my own; invariably the amount of time I spend connected means I will be exposed to some of it.
I personally, for the record, think it is fine.The Lord of the Rings world filled my imagination as a child, I'm just happy I get to see more of it. It isn't a particularly classy opinion, but it is the truth. These are amazing family films. One of the few reasons I can think of having kids for would be to show them these movies, and then eventually Lord of the Rings. I considered going the purist root, but as a friend reminded me, the book was meant to entertain and teach children.
I also think the inclusion of Tauriel is fine, if that even needs to be stated at this point. I like to think we got all that out the way with Arwen and Lord of the Rings.
While perhaps not as neat as its predecessor, it easily equals it and convinces me that this ambitious three film project will probably not be a disaster. Some incredible fantasy action scenes, some interesting characters, the Dwarves all still feel unique enough while not crowding up the place. Some characters were undeveloped yes, some were given too much screen time, but we still have the grand finale to get to.
I always assumed this would be the film that would fall completely flat if any of them were going to. But it hasn't, and now I can pretty much just happily wait until next year, where we can end this and I can either get into damage repair mode, or be very happy at another quality (if very different) trilogy from Middle Earth.
Me in a world without Cynicism.
Oh yeah, the Jewish Dwarves thing.
I'll write an article on that in the New Year. You'll enjoy it I swear.