Twitter Plot Summary: More Middle Earth shenanigans, with 100% more dragon than Part 1 and 100% less singing.
Five Point Summary:
3. Man flesh!
Once more into Middle Earth, dear friends, once more. It’s the festive season which means another Hobbit movie is upon us. This time round we get giant spiders, a confusing forest, a man who turns into a bear (or vice versa), the return of Legolas, and at last a ruddy great big dragon. All of this is crammed into a 2 hr 40m running time, so as you may expect it starts at pace and never lets up.
Efforts have been made to counteract the “too many dwarfs” syndrome of the first film and more of them have a bit of personality this time round. It’s still not perfect and at least half the dwarf contingent are non-existent in terms of the narrative, but it’s a step in the right direction. We’re introduced to a younger Legolas, and rather than the assured warrior we saw in LOTR, at this stage he’s cocky and abrasive, liable to get himself killed as a result of his own smug superiority complex. His circumstances are further complicated by his interest in fellow Elf Tauriel (Lilly), however into this mix is thrown dwarf Kili (Turner). The love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel and Dwarf Kili feels forced and doesn’t sit well – it develops from nothing and unless Elves form relationships in under 5 minutes then it’s hard to believe. One further note of complaint is that some of the CGI actually looks quite bad (the group on the outskirts of the forest, the liquid gold in the mountain), however this is counterbalanced by Smaug, who looks fantastic, and is expertly voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. On the “almost too obvious to mention” front, locations too are as gorgeous as ever to look at, which in its own way makes up for the occasionally iffy CGI.
Then there’s Smaug, who is introduced relatively late into the story but is entirely worth the build-up. Bilbo’s encounter with him is akin to a bigger scale version of Riddles in the Dark, although in this case Bilbo is lucky to get out alive. Smaug is devious, cunning, and absolutely massive. No easy route for escape however you look at it.
Meanwhile Gandalf is off investigating Dol Guldur and the mysterious Necromancer who resides there. Looking at Gandalf’s story separate to Bilbo’s, there isn’t much to it beyond him travelling from A to B and piecing together a few clues, in what almost feels like a desperate bid to link the two trilogies – in the darkness bind them, indeed. Still, much like the original trilogy, this second film has given me some of my favourite quotes so far – Gandalf’s silky delivery of “Good. You’ll need it.” is fantastic, and the orcs saying “Man flesh!” made me giggle in the cinema. I would expect part 3 to find it difficult to top these two brief moments, but we’ll see.
And therein lies the one big improvement over Part 1 – lots of story and lots of action. There’s loads of them crammed into this portion of the tale, the characters moving from one set piece to the other with reckless abandon. Performances remain solid and entertaining. Other than Ian McKellen being fantastic as always, Freeman and Armitage maintain strong characterisation as Bilbo and Thorin, and new characters such as Bard, Tauriel, Legolas (well, kind of new), and the Mayor of Laketown (an always impressive Stephen Fry) are all earnest in their approach. The only sticking point there is Ryan Gage’s Alfrid, who seems to be a cheap knock-off of Brad Dourif’s Grima Wormtongue.
All in all it’s a marked improvement over the first entry. There’s more action, more drama, and we’re a few steps closer to both the epic Battle of the Five Armies as well as making the final connections between The Hobbit and LOTR. The only sticking point is the rather sudden ending. If you needed any more proof that this was the middle part of a trilogy, you’ll definitely get that impression when the film reaches its end. Less satisfying than the ending to part 1, it does at least hint at the epic finale to come.