Can it really have been a year since I reviewed An Unexpected Journey? Apparently, yes. Wow.
Moving on, here’s an official plot summary from Warner Brothers:
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues the adventure of the title character Bilbo Baggins as he journeys with the Wizard Gandalf and thirteen Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, on an epic quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.
Having survived the beginning of their unexpected journey, the Company continues East, encountering along the way the skin-changer Beorn and a swarm of giant Spiders in the treacherous forest of Mirkwood. After escaping capture by the dangerous Wood-elves, the Dwarves journey to Lake-town, and finally to the Lonely Mountain itself, where they must face the greatest danger of all – a creature more terrifying than any other; one which will test not only the depth of their courage but the limits of their friendship and the wisdom of the journey itself – the Dragon Smaug.
This movie was… interesting, to say the least. From the moment An Unexpected Journey ended, I was excited for its sequel (and made plans to see it with a friend, which didn’t fall through – this explains why I often prefer characters to people). I appreciated the nearly three hours of immersion in Middle-earth but ultimately, The Desolation of Smaug is my least favorite of Peter Jackson’s entire Tolkien franchise.
Let’s start with Tauriel. She’s an elf, Captain of the Woodland Guard in Mirkwood, and basically the only important female character in the entire trilogy. (I have nothing against Galadriel, but she had a pretty small role in An Unexpected Journey and it doesn’t seem like we’re going to see much more of her.) Because the original novel does not feature any women, Peter Jackson added one. This upset many fans because they thought he was changing too much.
I, however, disagree. Yes, I want films to be as close to the original stories as possible – but only within reason. I’ve heard/read too many complaints of, “It’s not Tolkien’s fault! He was writing in the 1930s, it was a different time!”
Indeed. And this movie was made in the 2010s. What’s your point? That was then, this is now. We can do better than the original! We can avoid writing off half the population. And honestly, they’re doing the absolute minimum. Add up the main and supporting characters (dwarves, elves, Orcs, wizards, men, a Necromancer, one hobbit, and Smaug) to make twenty-nine. Divide three – I’m counting Bard’s daughters too – by twenty-nine and you get ten percent. Men are still overwhelmingly the majority, and we don’t even know the names of two-thirds of the girls. At least I didn’t catch them.
So the inclusion of women was nice, but I’m not happy about Tauriel’s romantic subplot. (No, no, hear me out. I’m not just being bitter. To the contrary, I quite enjoy adorable love stories but not many are good. More on that in a bit.) Tauriel and Kili fall in love. Unfortunately, Kili happens to be a dwarf and their races do not get along with one another. What do I think is OK? Where did Jackson go wrong?
Romantic subplot? Check. They can be really cute.
Romantic subplot that wasn’t in the book? Sure, as long as they don’t take too much time away from the original story – and I didn’t feel like Kili and Tauriel’s did.
Romantic subplot between an elf and a dwarf? Partial check. I wouldn’t mind, except I feel like this takes away some of the impact of the friendship between Legolas and Gimli. (Or maybe they were totally in love – have you read the Appendices? Oh man, there’s an entire section about Legolas sailing away with Gimli so they’d be together forever in paradise.) When they become friends in Lord of the Rings it is a BIG DEAL because Gimli is the son of one of the dwarves in the Company and Legolas’ dad was the Elvenking who held those dwarves hostage. The two put aside their differences and it’s really quite sweet. It’s not such a big deal if it’s been done before.
Romantic subplot that comes out of nowhere? No check at all! I HATE LOVE STORIES LIKE THIS AND UNFORTUNATELY MOST OF THEM ARE LIKE THIS. Tauriel/Kili makes no sense. Evidently it doesn’t matter that one’s the captive and the other the captor as long as they find each other hot. They’re immediately drawn to one another and later Tauriel saves Kili’s life several times, even though she barely knows him – they’ve talked for five minutes about, of all things, stones and starlight. What kind of relationship is that?
It’s very unrealistic and totally not my type. I hate Insta-Romance. I want tension, the will-they-won’t-they, and slowly building chemistry. Don’t give me this nonsense where characters pledge their undying love two pages (or two minutes of screentime) after meeting one another. People can be attracted to others quickly, but love takes a while.
Enough of Tauriel. My other big issue with The Desolation of Smaug is the action. There was too much of it! The film already suffered from the same problems The Two Towers had – it’s the middle of a story and definitely feels like it, with an abrupt beginning and no real conclusion – but the action only made it worse. There was lots of fire, explosions, and running around for no real reason. The Desolation of Smaug certainly hurtled towards a point, but no one got the point. And we won’t until next December, when There And Back Again comes out.
My brother didn’t think the CGI was very good. Maybe he’s right, but I didn’t notice that. I just noticed how much there was, and I didn’t like that. Lord of the Rings had CGI – Gollum is a great example, you’d never guess he wasn’t real – but it didn’t feel as obvious. Here, it seemed like everything was filmed in front of a green screen. Mirkwood, Dol Guldur, Orcs, Smaug’s lair. It seemed too slick, too whiz-bang-look-at-what-we-can-do-with-computers!
Additionally, some of the stunts were ridiculous. Yes, I get that elves are super duper athletic beings of glitter and awesomeness. But what was with Legolas jumping from dwarf to dwarf when they were in the barrels? And Bombur’s spinning sword attack? (I have to admit, that was neat in terms of character development – they made him more than just The Fat One. But it was overkill in a movie already stuffed with flips and turns and throwing knives.) It seemed like all the scenes I wanted to last longer (Thranduil in Mirkwood) were cut short and everything I didn’t care for (Gandalf and Radagast in Dol Guldur) was extended.
The Desolation of Smaug is not without merits. I enjoyed the scenes with Beorn (although I wish there were more), thought Bard was cast well, was impressed with Smaug’s menace and majesty, and LOVED the appearance of Lake-town. Overall, though, it’s rather tedious. I usually sit enthralled and completely content while watching Lord of the Rings, but I fidgeted all throughout The Desolation of Smaug. And that wasn’t from all the sugary, fruity candy I consumed during the first fifteen minutes.