This middle third of Peter Jackson’s (director) new Middle Earth saga does a lot to rectify the problems of last years ‘An Unexpected Journey’. Most importantly, this second film is far more nimble and rattles along at quite a pace . . . with no time wasted on bloody tea parties.
In fact, the welcome sense of urgency means this chapter feels far more like a Lord of the Rings film. The same can be said of the films impressive scope and, like all the best fantasy, the characters felt like they were part of something far greater than the action on screen. Their quest takes them across a vast world – complete with complex politics and ancient mythologies – and every new character they come across seems to have life beyond the mission in hand. This was something distinctly missing from the first film which, in comparison, felt flimsy and emotionally barren. ‘The Desolation of Smaug’, however, succumbs to far fewer pitfalls and instead feels far more muscular and grand.
The increased prominence of the ring also means this instalment shares a far greater tonal resemblance with the original trilogy. It benefits greatly from a well-measured selection of ring-based corruption scenes, most notably a terrifying encounter with some spiders. The corruption continues throughout the film, and there is a constant sense of unease created by the rings newfound influence. These moments are made increasingly effective by some wonderful work from Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins), who totally inhabits his character in a career-defining role.
‘Desolation’ also sees a thrilling return for Legolas, this time partnered up with Tauriel (Lost’s Evangeline Lilly), who’s character-motif seems to be an arrow flying across the screen. So whenever an orc receives an arrow between the eyes, you know the two elves will soon come bursting into the scene with arrows a-flying and blades a-dicing. In fact, they are both utilised brilliantly by Jackson, who manages to avoid overusing them, and, in the end, they elevate every action scene they’re in; the best example being a joyously exhilarating barrel-based chase sequence.
It’s still too long and relies a tad too much on CGI, but ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ is a vast improvement over last year’s ‘Unexpected (and too often unwanted) Journey’. Roll on part three.