'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' review: Peter Jackson fleeces fans again

'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' review: Peter Jackson fleeces fans again

"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures, used with permission)

Only the most hardcore Peter Jackson fan can justify this tortuously drawn out 'Hobbit' sequel.

In short: Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) continues his journey with a band of dwarves determined to reclaim their homeland from the dangerous dragon Smaug. Meanwhile, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) discovers a new threat may be emerging in Middle Earth. (watch the trailer)

First of all, 'The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug' is not a story or even a self-contained sequel. This is clearly chapter in a much longer story, which would be fine except 'Desolation' doesn't have a beginning or an ending. The movie begins suddenly with no set up: the band of dwarves are just running. And 'Desolation' abruptly stops without an ending - just a frustrating cliffhanger slammed right in the middle of rising action.

'Desolation' is hard to summarize primarily because it doesn't have a story arch: there's no beginning, middle or resolution. Basically, Bilbo and dwarves just bounce from one predicament to the next. First it's a bear, then some spiders, then some Elves and finally a big dragon.

Instead of using the lengthy 161-minute running time of 'Desolation' to flesh out the film's army of characters, this film opts for silly, lengthy action sequences instead of actual storytelling.

The best moments of 'An Unexpected Journey' were just the allusions to the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy. Aside from Smaug himself, the same is true in 'Desolation' ... except there's even fewer allusions to the original 'LoTR' trilogy. Gandalf's investigation into a Necromancer teases the familiar enemy of the 'LotR' trilogy, but never quite follows through with this tantalizing thread. Everything about Gandalf's arch is almost interesting - but never quite becomes exciting.

Legolas, who was a central character in the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, is a supporting character for this 'Hobbit' sequel - but his inclusion is completely superfluous. He's essentially just a spinning blonde whirlwind who stabs, dismembers and beheads orcs - he stops only long enough to fire arrows into countless orcs. He has almost no character - he's just a running bow with a long dreamy hair.

The Elven ranger Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) could have been cut completely out and no one would have noticed. She has some b-plot with one of the interchangeable, nameless tertiary dwarves. It's very clear Tauriel is a character only added to inject some illusion of excitement without actually adding any significant story contribution.

The film belongs to its two titular characters: Bilbo Baggins and Smaug ... but even their interesting scenes are too few and far between to justify a 2.5 hour running time.

The 'Hobbit' films have failed to make Bilbo a dynamic character, much less the theoretical lead character. His most interesting moments are pretty much limited to his inner conflict regarding his 'precious' ring and his one-on-one confrontation with Smaug.

Yes, Smaug. The terrifying, city destroying beast who is only referred to in 'Unexpected Journey' at long last makes his appearance ... in the sequel's final act. Thankfully, Benedict Cumberbatch is able to make the most of the dragon's pretty limited screen time with a performance that is every bit arrogant, powerful and menacing.

Basically, the interaction between Bilbo and Smaug is the only completely entertaining aspect of 'Desolation.' Everything else is filler that only clogs up an already meandering, undisciplined narrative.

Final verdict: 'Desolation of Smaug' proves there's absolutely no need for the 'Hobbit' series to be stretched across a trilogy of 2.5 hour movies. Jackson's bloated assembly of dim-witted 'dwarves running/orcs chasing/elves killing' scenes should be a direct insult to the master fantasy storyteller J. R. R. Tolkien.

Score: 2/5

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