“Truly the songs and tales fall utterly short of your enormity, oh Smaug the Stupendous” gasps Bilbo as he takes in the full form of the dragon for the first time. It is the perfect delivery of a line that befits the thoughts of the titular Shire-ling and us as an audience. For Smaug is enormous and perfectly realised; a terrifying and tactile CGI creation that will make you believe a gigantic, fire breathing winged serpent beast exists. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The next chapter in the Hobbit trilogy is the antithesis of all the complaints surrounding the last film’s pace. From the off the action is full throttle and the urgency of the quest is given a well needed kick, as the dwarves strive to reach the Lonely Mountain before Durin’s Day.
The group becomes fractured as Gandalf breaks away to investigate Dol Guldur and the dwarves separate due to illness, sense of duty and prophecised fate each guiding their personal journeys. This too adds to the frenetic feel of this middle entry into the saga, as the divided stories intertwine, building to an adrenaline fuelled final 45 minutes that will have you gasping for air.
Because of this rushed feeling there are some elements that feel a little glossed over. In particular the scenes with Beorn the skin-changer are over in a heartbeat. Though Jackson has already stated that he will have a bigger part to play in the final film it seemed a shame to speed past this character’s introduction and subsequent exit. Stephen Fry’s Master of Laketown was also only given a few short scenes to develop his character, which meant that any chance of mystery or hidden purpose was eschewed in favour of light humoured caricature.
By now I’m sure you’ve all seen that Legolas is back, along with newly created elf Tauriel. Despite neither character appearing in the book their stories genuinely aided the film. It also allowed Jackson and co. to flex their action choreography muscles to the max, by having the elves jump, slide, spin and slash their way through wave after wave of orcs whilst firing a seemingly unending barrage of perfectly aimed arrows; it can’t fail to put a smile on your face.
The real lead players are still Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage. Both are incredible in their roles and having got over the first film’s lengthy introductions are now fully formed and greatly nuanced characters. As Gandalf points out early on, Bilbo is “not the same Hobbit that left the Shire”. He is braver now, much more selfless, more heroic and also showing the early signs of being tortured by the ring. Thorin too is bolder. But he also serves to draw suspicion as he draws closer to the mountain and his true desires for the Arkenstone become clear.
“If this is to end in fire, then we will all burn together!”
Then there is Smaug. As mentioned earlier this is one hell of a CGI creation. Benedict Cumberbatch’s motion capture performance is one for the ages. Like Andy Serkis’ Gollum before him, Cumberbatch has given Smaug an iconic voice which will be impersonated and satirised for years to come. The presence of the beast cannot be overstated. He is a terrifying and imposing monster who truly elevates the film to a level that is befitting of Tolkien’s literary godhood.
Though it would still be easy to make the criticism that the story feels expanded for the sake of three films; that the majority of the movie feels less meaningful than LOTR ever did, this is always an afterthought and never feels true whilst watching. Jackson is a cinematic master and is one of the few people who can make you feel that 3 hours in a cinema is not nearly long enough. Just to view middle earth is to be taken away to a fully realised and fully immersive world that I could watch for days and not tire of.