Almost a year ago exactly, Peter Jackson’s An Unexpected Journey opened to great financial success, but disappointed critically as many viewers failed to indulge in its epic length, the often trivial plot embellishments and frankly pointless high frame rate experimentation. Restrained by the trepidation that these failures provoked, The Desolation of Smaug failed to repeat its predecessor’s box-office triumph, but this gutsy sequel returns Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy to familiar ground – a bigger, bolder adventure with detailed characters and breathtaking action set pieces.
The Desolation of Smaug maintains the tone of its predecessor, but is superior in every way. Even the director’s desire to deviate from the original source material works this time around. Informed by the note of scepticism that fans sounded when plans for more alterations were announced, Jackson and his writing team return with sensible, better developed changes that tie both trilogies together and supplement the narrative expertly.
The main adventure, as Bilbo and the thirteen dwarves continue their journey to The Lonely Mountain, is complemented by growing sub plots and newly invented characters. Legolas returns with the same athletic, bow-wielding antics that established him as a fan favourite, Gandalf’s mysterious quest in Dol Guldur is rich in magic and tension, and Evangeline Lily’s Tauriel is a welcomed female addition to an otherwise male dominated tale.
Still, The Desolation of Smaug is every bit a middle film; one more concerned with setting up its successor than delivering a complete film in its own right. In seeking to strike the same balance he achieved with The Two Towers, Jackson immerses the audience with action packed sequences, from the moment it begins, to ensure its mammoth runtime passes with ease. But where his Lord of the Rings sequel ends with a nuanced conclusion, The Desolation of Smaug will divide audiences with its bold cliffhanger that brings the film to an abrupt and provocative close.