Two films down, one to go. Peter Jackson's second epic trilogy where he re-visits Middle Earth continues as Bilbo Baggins and his gang of dwarves travel ever closer to The Lonely Mountain and their encounter with the fire-breathing dragon, Smaug. In "The Desolation of Smaug" you see glimpses of what Jackson did with "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. There is a resurgence if you will, in this penultimate film that features some great action set pieces, and little more dwarf history, and the best performance by a dragon you'll see all year.
"Smaug" is a vast improvement over the first film, "An Unexpected Journey" which was a slave to having to re-create a world where there was no fellowship, no imminent danger, and for lack of a better term, no real protagonist that you can relate to. Granted, it might be hard to relate to a reluctant king, an elf princess, or a hard drinking dwarf, but at least there were recognizable characters that you could root for. To be honest, I have a hard time remembering any of the dwarves in Thorin Oakenshield's company outside of the aforementioned dwarf leader.
I think one of the traps this trilogy has fallen into is its reliance on fanboy love. The beauty of "LotR" was the fact that even if you didn't read the books, or knew little of J.R.R. Tolkien's writings, the story was strong enough to bring moviegoers who were dying for an epic three-part adventure, that for my money, still can't be beat. "The Hobbit" trilogy lacks what made "LotR" magical. At times it lacks any originality for the most part where you find yourself visiting many places you saw before, and the pacing is painful at times. However, Jackson certainly learned his lesson from his first film in the trilogy, and while it might piss off die-hard fans of the book, he;s made "Smaug" a far more entertaining watch.
First of all, the action is pumped up quite a bit. While the escape from The Goblin King and his minions might have been exciting in "Journey" it was the highlighted action piece. In "Smaug" there is the wine barrel chase, a ton of hot Elf-on-Orc action, you get to see Gandalf be a bad-ass again, and of course all of the scenes with Smaug, voiced excellently by Benedict Cumberbatch. The film also marks the "return" of Legolas and the introduction of a new character, Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly. People have been pissed about the addition of these two, but I'm trying to understand why. Legolas brings something to these "Hobbit" films; nostalgia, whereas as Lilly brings a little sex appeal to the proceedings, and I might add, she does make a sexy elf and I wouldn't be surprised if "female elf" is one of the top Halloween costumes in 2014.
The biggest gripe that many people have is the fact that Jackson strayed too far away from Tolkien's material. I'd respond with "Thank God!" Without these additions to the film, I might go as far as saying these films are pretty unwatchable. They are tedious exercises in exploiting a beloved book while trying to extort more money from nerds who can't get enough of The Shire and Hobbit feet. You might think, "Matt! I thought you liked this film better than the first one?!" I do like "Smaug" better than "Journey" but that still doesn't make either one great.
All in all, "Smaug" is the shot in the arm the trilogy needed. It finally introduced the aforementioned Smaug with all the bravado that it deserved, and it ended in a way that will FORCE people who have already invested over five hours of their time into investing another nearly three hours later this December. "The Hobbit" films might have their problems and shortcomings, but at least Jackson got this one right, even if he had to piss some book fanboys off in the process.
Fun Fact: Published in 1937, many critics believe that Tolkien's novel, "The Hobbit" was based on his experiences in World War I.