It was this time last year that Peter Jackson’s took his first foray back into Tolkein’s world with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the prequel to the hugely loved The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Unlike the LOTR trilogy, The Hobbit got off to a rocky start with many fans of Jackson’s original three films complaining that it took too long to get going and was lacking the pace they desired from it. This seemed a tad unfair; Jackson nurtured and breathed life into his prequel with the same care and affection he had previously placed upon LOTR. This is a marathon and not a sprint and An Unexpected Journey was indicative of that. For many familiar with the world this frustrated, as they wanted new action – and lots of it -, new heroes, and a story that rattled the two together with visually titillating results. Cue The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
We rejoin the story as Bilbo and the Dwarves are in touching distance of The Lonely Mountain, Dwarf Kingdom and current home to the charmingly wicked dragon, Smaug, voiced by the wickedly charming Benedict Cumberbatch. What follows next is three hours of pure joy, with Jackson expertly navigating flawlessly-executed set pieces, sweeping vistas of Middle Earth and genuine moments of emotional weight; most of which involve the beautifully understated Martin Freeman as the titular The Hobbit. Freeman’s Bilbo carries the film through, from start to finish, with a self-deprecating Britishness, wit, strength and humour that makes it easy to see why Jackson waited for Freeman to be available for the role. In a world so far removed from reality, and steeped in a mysticism and lore that could quite easily become alienating, Freeman grounds the story, drawing the audience in to the plight of this little hobbit amongst much grander and figuratively larger characters.
The Desolation of Smaug also gives the audience enough time to become familiar with, and care about, the wealth of smaller characters that pepper the franchise, as the story pushes further. Aiden Turner as the youngest Dwarf, Kili, especially comes into his own as his story branches off from the main arc. There is also a welcome return for Orlando Bloom as Legolas in what could have felt like an arbitrary and unnecessary revival of the character. Instead Bloom’s Legolas is colder, steelier and harder than in the Lord of the Rings which is offset by the wonderful Evangeline Lilly who slays as the lethal-yet-kind Elf warrior, Tauriel.
The real joy of watching The Hobbit is bearing witness to Jackson bringing all these elements together in beautiful harmony. He conducts the moving parts seamlessly with multiple threads, characters, themes and tones all woven together to produce an awe-inspiring final set piece that feels surprisingly fresh and unique. Drawing out one book into three films may be economically cynical and slightly indulgent but I say indulge away. This film doesn’t feel protracted or slow, but is a chapter in a masterpiece of which Jackson should be proud. With all my gushing aside, this film isn’t for those who aren’t fans of the genre and of Tolkein’s literature. You have to invest and care about the characters. I do though. I’m on board 100% and can’t wait to see the final chapter in another accomplished and, dare I say, epic story.