Eventually I may go back to try to figure out why The Lord of the Rings trilogy works so well and this one doesn’t. Desolation of Smaug, like last year’s An Unexpected Journey, gets the job done well enough. I’m not mad at it. But by the time “The Two Towers” was over more than a decade ago I was fully enthralled. Not so much here.
Perhaps it’s because I’m not as invested in these characters. The dwarves don’t interest me as much as Aragorn, Frodo, Gollum, Eowyn, Theoden, Arwen, and company. Apart from fearless leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) and Kili (Aidan Turner), the hunky one (by dwarf standards … is that racist?), they’re interchangeable, and nobody we meet along the way really adds much more to the story; the Laketown interlude feels perfunctory, and the elves feel like … well, just more elves (is that racist?). I’m not sure I even understood Gandalf’s side quest.
The film didn’t really come to life for me until the arrival of Smaug. He has so much visual detail, such a great booming voice (Benedict Cumberbatch, greatly assisted by recording studio augmentation). When he stops talking and begins a protracted chase scene — the dwarves, as it turns out, are really bad at fighting dragons — it loses some interest again, but it closes on a good cliffhanger.
Next up is The Battle of the Five Armies, retitled from Been There and Done That Again.