Smaug the dragon is the fearsome evil in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, written before his Lord of the Rings epic and intended for a younger readership. Yet in The Desolation of Smaug, part two of director Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, Smaug is a symptom of a greater evil, and that evil is sending out rampaging orcs nonstop. As the elf lord (Lee Pace) tells it, “In time, all foul things come forth,” though it took no time at all for the orc invasion that started in part one. Smaug is merely this film’s grand finale of foulness. In Jackson’s battle-filled version, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his dwarf companions are besieged by seemingly dozens of orc attacks before ever setting eyes on Lonely Mountain, Smaug’s treasure-filled lair and the lost homeland of his dwarf companions—of whom only wise old Balin (Ken Stott) has a noticeable personality.
For those who enjoy these CGI kinds of things, in which elf archers such as Legolas (Orlando Bloom) zoom to the rescue like avenging video-game angels, then Desolation will be more enjoyable than An Unexpected Journey, which had all that nasty exposition. No such storytelling lulls here–and not much Tolkien, either. Even more so than in part one, the delightful personality of Bilbo—with his hidden skills, his secret yearnings (mostly for his well-stocked larder back in the Shire) and his innocent’s courage—is whittled down to a few utterances. Jackson’s fifth foray to Middle Earth can be considered more fan fiction than adaptation.
Not only has Legolas been brought back for no other reason than that he was a favorite with teenage boys in LOTR, but the script fabricates another galloping heroine to take the place of Arwen and Eowyn. Fortunately, Tauriel, a wood-elf concoction, is played by Evangeline Lilly with convincing displays of feistiness and tenderness, even when she is forced to re-create scenarios from LOTR such as tending to a festering wound with her elvish healing powers.
Now that it’s become obvious that Jackson and his screen team are merely milking this mystical little adventure story for every additional billion dollars possible at the box office, suffice it say that it is livelier than its predecessor, that the artistic team apparently had a lot of fun creating the orc hordes, that Ian McKellen is still compelling as Gandalf, and that Jackson does not, as stated during pre-production, bother himself with adding any imaginative sequences from Tolkien’s other Middle Earth works. And if it weren’t for Benedict Cumberbatch’s wily and seductively menacing voicing of Smaug during the dragon’s verbal sparring with Bilbo, the film would conclude as a crashing bore.
Because where Jackson really blew it was by giving away the identity of the necromancer, instead of using this unseen entity for some much-needed meaning and suspense. And just in case anyone didn’t get it, Sauron makes a cameo.