Contains spoilers from the first movie and book.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: the second movie in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy blows the first part, An Unexpected Journey, out of the water. Jackson succeeds at creating both big and small moments, but even still, it has its share of problems.
The action set pieces are amazingly choreographed. No longer do we have Radagast the Brown being pulled around by giant rabbits as orcs chase him. Instead, we get the freakiness of the giant spiders, a thrilling river-barrel sequence, and a brilliantly paced extended climax. A small fight scene drops several orcs into a room with several characters, and I couldn’t help but feel like Jackson challenged himself to go back to his roots and use as little CGI as possible.
Smaug is worth the price of admission alone. Massive. Evil. Death incarnate. I’d say more, but this is something you should experience for yourself.
Plus, some character beats in the midst of the chaos create an emotional subtext that just wasn’t there in AUJ. Bilbo and Thorin connect on an incredibly personal level over their respective quests, and though I didn’t feel very sympathetic to the dwarves quest from the two minutes of backstory they have in the first movie, their quest means so much more here.
The Necromancer, which seemed like a vague threat in AUJ, is terrifying once revealed. I didn’t think much of Azog the Defiler, but his new deputy Bolg is what a proper villain should be. As the wood elf Tauriel, Evangeline Lilly, who I will always remember as Kate from LOST, is incredibly badass and a great addition to the franchise, and Legolas makes a heroic return killing orcs in about a hundred different ways.
But then we have the unnecessary smaller bits, and most of the problems start here—Beorn, exploring the tombs of the Nazgul, the Master of Laketown. Even the meeting with Thranduil for the most part, which seems like a redux of the scenes in the goblin caverns from the first one. When there’s no action going on, Jackson can’t stop spinning the camera around, and the visual effects suffer. There’s an over-reliance on tropes and music cues from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Bilbo using the ring gets repetitive.
This chapter is very much the middle part of its own trilogy. Part 1 was mostly getting the gang from one location to another. In Part 2, the adventure really picks up, as the dwarves, Hobbit, and wizard face the growing tide of evil spreading across the land. However, the door’s still left open for a massive battle to come, and if the series continues to improve, this huge undertaking in storytelling will be worth it.
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