I haven’t seen any of the Lord of the Rings movies (partly on principle), and I didn’t love 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. But compared to The Desolation of Smaug, An Unexpected Journey looks like Raiders of the Lost Ark in terms of plot and adventure, and looks Taxi Driver in terms of character study. The overriding problem with Desolation is that the eponymous Hobbit – Bilbo Baggins – is not the focus of the film. Say what you will about the terrible attempts at humour and the needless plot diversions in An Unexpected Journey, but at least the first film mostly realised that Bilbo is the fulcrum for all the film’s events.
The Desolation of Smaug is, from top to bottom, is completely unessential. While the film should exist as an exploration of the next logical step in Bilbo’s personal journey, director Peter Jackson superficially examines tens of uninteresting plot tangents, continually focusing on unnecessary plot digressions. Why should we give a shit about some dwarf and his Elvin love interest, when we’re longing to know what Bilbo is doing and thinking? Why should we care about the Bard and his family, when they are not characterised in the slightest? Why do the elves oscillate between speaking English and Elvish in the one conversation?
While the first film struggled to conjure up stakes, the second film has no stakes. Even though the first film clunkily crowbarred some gargantuan Orc into the plot to chase our ‘heroes’, there was at least some sense of threat and danger. There is no sense of threat or danger in the second film. If Peter Jackson actually wanted to raise the stakes in Desolation and generate even a semblance of peril and menace, then he would have killed off at least one of the dwarves. Instead, the dwarves relentlessly survive. Even when one of the dwarves is shot by a poisonous arrow in the leg, his leg is healed.
The first film’s tonal inconsistencies at least made it somewhat engaging, and you could revel in its trite direness; however, the second film’s tonal monotony and mundanity is soporifically dull. There is no humour in The Desolation of Smaug, and just as the film starts to pick up its incoherent and rambling pace, it suddenly ends. Just as I became invested in the film and the characters – in the sequences with Smaug – the film was cut short.
This is much like the first Hobbit film, when the excellent Gollum sequence comes right towards the end of the film, and hence both films are horrifically timed and paced. But even the largely enjoyable Smaug sequences are deeply flawed; Jackson does not evoke the riddles and one-upmanship in the dragon’s conversation with Bilbo as is done in the book, relying instead on overwrought action and unrealistic CGI that will look dated by August. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is axiomatically one-star film, and lackadaisical as it is overdone, and I have nothing else to say about it.