I have to eat my words here. In my review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (which I loved) I said I didn’t care how much they milked the Lord of the Rings franchise. Well I take it back! You’ve milked enough! No more milk for you – I’m cutting you off.
It’s difficult being the middle child in a film trilogy, and Desolation for me felt like a really long set up for Battle of Five Armies. It doesn’t resolve anything by the end, saving it for the next movie, which left me feeling unsatisfied. I have read the book so I feel they could have reached a resolution here whilst still having a cliffhanger and plenty of conflict left for the finale. This would have made it feel more like a complete and satisfying movie in and of itself.
Since the source material is so short and stretched out across 3 long movies filler is to be expected. In this case the filler was mostly action, which as far as padding goes is exciting padding at least. Or is it? The problem I found was that there was no sense of peril for the characters. This is not merely because we know Bilbo and Legolas survive but because they keep doing things to the heroes that really should kill them (I mean really, they ought to be dead) and the characters just get up and walk it off! This makes it feel like a video game and lets face it, video games are mainly fun because you’re playing them – they ain’t that fun to watch, even if the camera angle does swing around wildly. Wait… especially if the camera angle swings around wildly.
Why is Legolas in here again? Besides fan service I mean? More padding, sure, but would the movie lose anything at all if he wasn’t there? I don’t think so. And following Tauriel around like some love-sick puppy doesn’t do his character any favours (or hers for that matter). Once again you have him performing ridiculous stunts. In LOTR at least these were isolated and occasional, but here it added furthur weight to my sense of disbelief. Sorry Legolas – you are too perfect to be real.
Why did they not spend time actually building a relationship between Kili and Tauriel instead, so that the love story actually made sense? As it stands it’s unbelievably shallow. Tauriel loves Kili because… he’s hot? (And less dwarfy looking than the other dwarves for whatever reason.) Does his beard release a pheromone? Personally I’m betting that stone thingy really did have a curse on it. Yeah, I’m going with Dwarven witchcraft! (If they make that cannon it explains Legolas’s mistrust of dwarves). I can’t help thinking that the real reason they did not think about her character motivation was because Tauriel herself was supposed to be character motivation: for Legolas. She doesn’t really matter; she is just an excuse to get Legolas involved with the dwarves, a pretty love interest to run after them so that he, in turn, can chase after her.
I’m not going to lie; I loved the reveal of Smaug and think they did an excellent job with the Dragon’s design, animations and voice acting. The scene where Smaug and Bilbo face-off is the high point of the film with both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman bringing their A-game. Imagine what the movie would have been like if they had focused more on the title character, Bilbo, throughout? Freeman certainly has the ability to handle such focus, and it would be true to the original, but this version rather sidelines Bilbo in favour of Thorin and Legolas (the more traditional heroes). Sadly, this misses the charm of The Hobbit, which is that Bilbo isn’t a traditional hero, he’s more of an everyman, and as such we the audience can relate to him. When he faces the dragon it’s an awesome moment because he’s obviously afraid of it but he doesn’t let his fear get the better of him.
Of course we had to have a preposterous gamified boss-fight, but as far as those go it was pretty good. (I’m resigned to the silliness now). SPOILER: Unfortunately it makes Smaug look less than impressive. He can’t hit anybody with his breath weapon and when he gets a chance to swallow whole he muffs it. At the end it seems he’s retreating to hide his embarrassment. In the books he traps the dwarves in a cave in. In this they hide behind pillars the dragon should be able to easily topple. And not only do furnaces not work that way but whoever thought fighting a dragon with molten gold – when it’s fire-resistant and you’re not – was a good idea?
In conclusion: for the love of God please stop milking this Peter Jackson! Tolkien is not your Fan Fic, nor is a movie a computer game and you would do well to remember it. It was badly done, Jackson, badly done, indeed!