The Movie Man came out of “The Desolation of Smaug,” the second of three “Hobbit” movies, with a familiar feeling.
Remember when the second “Star Wars” trilogy arrived? “The Hobbit” is experiencing the same kind of comparisons with its original film trilogy.
ABOUT THE FILM
Purist fans of the original “Star Wars” were appalled when the next three films were released; they did not approach the acclaim – publically or critically – of the 1977, 1980 and 1983 movies.
As often happens with presidents, once-reviled movies enjoy a renaissance after years pass. That’s happening with the second set of “Star Wars” pictures. The Movie Man pegged “The Phantom Menace” (1999, 6); “Attack of the Clones” (2002, 6); and “The Revenge of the Sith” (2005, 7).
Despite the endless detestation of fanboys, the second round of “Star Wars” films is now embraced by a new generation. They are getting some deserved due for their extension of the Lucas universe as well as their exceptional technological skill.
Not enough years have yet passed to forgive the atrocious acting.
The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was not only beloved but managed to pull off a near-miracle when the finale of the trio actually won the Oscar for Best Picture.
The Movie Man pegged “Fellowship of the Ring” (2002) as a 9; and “The Two Towers” (2003) and “The Return of the King” (2004) at 8. “The Fellowship of the Ring” was one of the handful of movies that was much better than expected.
Like with the second set of “Star Wars” pictures, the Movie Man is much fonder of the original “Rings” movies. They’re all technical marvels and skillfully created, but it’s undeniable that in both cases, group two lacks group one’s magic.
THE PLOT (SPOILERS)
The dwarves, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) continue to trek toward the Lonely Mountain. There, dwarf leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) plans to reclaim it and become the king of the dwarfs.
The fact that it’s guarded by a fearsome dragon, Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), is certainly troublesome, but the group has to get there first. And it doesn’t help that Gandalf has decided to leave the quest in the midst of the epic journey to head off somewhere else.
The dwarves and Bilbo must now negotiate the dreaded Mirkwood Forest where confusion reigns. Sure enough, they get lost then captured by elves. Since dwarves are considered lowlifes and thieves by elves, Thorin and his gang are tossed into cells. Orcs are still on their trail and one she-elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), feels compassion for a particular dwarf, Kili (Aidan Turner), much to macho elf Legolas’ (Orlando Bloom) dismay.
Managing to escape thanks to that mysterious golden ring that Bilbo carries, the trekkers interact with a Lake-town merchant, Bard (Luke Evans), to gain vital access to the city. They get captured (again!), but Thorin convinces the townsfolk that he will share the immense wealth inside the mountain if they are freed.
The dwarves reach the peak, and Bilbo figures out how to get in. There awaits the mighty Smaug who isn’t about to let go of his vast fortune.
WHAT WORKS (SPOILER)
It’s amazing to see just how great movies look today thanks to computer generation and Smaug is no different. (But see “What doesn’t work”)
Some sequences are simply astonishing, including Mirkwood Forest, the treasure stash Smaug protects/hordes and Smaug itself, which is Gollum-believable as a gargantuan, wily creature.
The elves are cool yet they’re not exactly sweet creatures here. (King Thranduil [Lee Pace] is a real jerk.) The addition of Tauriel – a completely made-up character that has hardcore devotees of the book up in arms – fits nicely, and Lilly is solid.
One minor character really leaps out, Alfrid (Ryan Gage), a slimy aide to the Master of Lake-town, Stephen Fry. Alfrid will certainly get what’s coming to him in the final film next Christmas, but Gage is wonderfully icky in his small role.
If you have not yet reached Cumberbatch overload yet, you’ll enjoy his malevolent reading as Smaug. (The actor also voices the Necromancer, which is where Gandalf headed off to when he split from the dwarf group outside the forest.)
Usually, the endless mocking by a villain of a clearly trapped hero is flat-out dumb. This time, though, Smaug swirling around Bilbo as billions of coins and gems fall and slide while the Hobbit seeks the Arkenstone, an oversized jewel, is tense.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
The Movie Man won’t lie: He looked at his watch often as this movie went on and on. (It’s actually shorter than the first one, but it’s still a killer at 161 minutes – plus there’s no stinger [post-credits scene] so don’t wait around.)
Despite all the stunning technology, a couple of scenes do look straight out of a computer game. They’re startlingly noticeable.
It’s still impossible to figure out which dwarf is which. A few are discernible, but the rest are just along for the ride.
Gandalf’s side adventure is crucial to the plot, but feels tacked on.
And, oh, my, the cliffhanger is getting serious “Are you kidding me’s” in theaters across the planet.
Like before, this is a very hard PG-13. The creatures, which are slaughtered by the hundreds, are frightening.
While the second set of “Rings”-themed movies is a notch down, it is still impressive moviemaking. “Smaug” is like its predecessor – entertaining, long, and, if you’re a fantasy fan, heaven. Otherwise, it’s a long slog for the casual film fan.