The Hobbit Trilogy may go down as the best two-part movie that could have been. Instead we get a cautionary tale on what happens when studios (looking at you Warner Bros and MGM) take someone else’s creation and tell them to stretch it into an extra movie so that more profit can be made. That’s the bad news- there are several sequences that feel suspiciously like extra padding to fill in the time allotment. But don’t worry Tolkien-lovers, there’s still a lot of good in this world!
First of all let’s get this out of the way Tolkien fans- it’s pretty hard to tell if the screenwriters actually read The Hobbit. The Desolation of Smaug almost seems to enjoy all the extra characters/plots/scenes that it’s thrown in, mainly (again) at the will of the movie studio. Some work, and some don’t. Either way, it’s still obvious they took a 300-page book and stretched it into three 2.5 hour movies (for comparison, the first trilogy was made out of three separate 400-page books). Some people may not agree that this was a bad idea, but it’s worth pointing out. What’s also worth pointing out is how much Bard (Luke Evans) looks like Orlando Bloom when he played Will Turner in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. So that makes it weird when Bard appears in the same scene as Legolas (Orlando Bloom). It’s almost like he’s warning him not to appear in Dead Man’s Chest.
So many scenes would fit in an Extended Edition but stick out as filler in a theatrical release. The opening flashback scene in Bree in particular felt like a forced callback to the first trilogy, sort of like Frodo’s random cameo in the first Hobbit movie. However, not all the extra parts were negative- the barrel riding sequence was actually one of my favorite parts thanks to the tight editing and fast pace. Seeing the Nazgul’s burial place and Sauron? Awesome sauce. Even made-up character Tauriel added a good deal to the story, though any excuse to have Evangeline Lilly onscreen is fine with me.
The special effects are much better than An Unexpected Journey and actually look like they belong in a big budget movie. Smaug is everything you’d want in a movie dragon and puts all other attempts to shame, period. And yes, Cumberbatch was the perfect voice choice. I still couldn’t help but imagine Sherlock and Watson talking during Smaug and Bilbo’s scene (any BBC lovers out there?). That said, who thought stretching the dragon cave into 45 minutes was good idea, and what were they smoking during that decision? Besides having a Home Alone/A-Team vibe (let’s make our own traps, gang!), it made Smaug look pitifully incapable- I mean, all that running around and he couldn’t even fry one dwarf? Wasn’t he supposed to be dangerous? Speaking of the dwarves, they’re still no Fellowship. Some of them still seem expendable, mainly because I don’t recognize all of them.
As a whole, this is a stronger movie than An Unexpected Journey. There was no awful goblin king. Bilbo’s character has gotten more likable since he got off the whole “but Gandalf, I don’t wanna go!” thing. However, once we were building to the climax, it cuts off with a terribly abrupt ending more fitting for a television show. If MGM and Warner Bros. had kept their greedy claws away from this 2-part treasure cave, these movies could have stood toe-to-toe with the originals. But still, this movie was a pretty good substitute, even if it’s not the real Old Toby.