The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug marks Peter Jackson's fifth outing in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth. With every Hobbit film, Peter Jackson slowly loses his touch of genius and slowly ruins the magic of Middle-Earth and what made The Lord of the Rings so amazing. The Desolation of Smaug is better than its predecessor, but jams too many characters and stories to give the audience a film more about the mythology of Middle-Earth than the story of one hobbit.
Picking up right after the first film, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and his group of ragtag dwarfs are on the run from orcs who want Thorin's (Richard Armitrage) head. That's just the beginning of what's going on. The big picture is that Thorin and his dwarfs are headed to the Lonely Mountain to take back their kingdom from the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Meanwhile, Gandalf's (Ian McKellan) chasing leads and being a detective on the other big picture; Sauron's return. Then, for some reason, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) shows up with his love interest Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) who soon becomes intrigued by one of the dwarfs. Halfway through the film the audience is introduced to more characters, including Bard (Luke Evans), a bargeman of Esgaroth. There are so many stories and characters that the film becomes overcrowded. As the film progresses with these characters, it starts to look like the screenwriters had to pick and choose which characters would be developed and which would be left one-dimensional.
On its own, the main story is interesting, but gets lost in all the nonsense of the other stories. Every other story was unnecessary. Jackson and Company pack everything regarding the mythology of Middle-Earth into this film, which leaves no room to breathe. Jackson places in these other stories to connect the Hobbit films with The Lord of the Rings films. One particular story introduces Legolas and his love-interest Tauriel.
Jackson also decides to destroy the continuity of The Lord of the Rings trilogy by placing Gandalf on a quest to find out what evil is growing in Dol Guldur. These side-quests the film trails off to, are all easter eggs so audiences can find similarities between the two Tolkien franchises. Instead, they dampen the story. One major side effect of having three separate stories occur, is that the finale has so many layers. You enjoy Bilbo and Smaug until you are taken to Legolas and Tauriel on their adventure. All the tension is lost and you are forced to watch a sub-par action sequence.
Most of the special effects failed to impress. Besides Smaug and the third act of the film, most action sequences felt fake. The barrel action sequence was one of those scenes. It was long and campy. Legolas would be jumping on dwarf heads or sliding on orcs like they were skateboards. One dwarf would be rolling his barrel across rocks and over the river, hitting orcs as he passed by. Nothing ever felt serious for the first two acts.
The one achievement by the special effects was the creation of one of the most terrifying, yet mesmerizing villains, Smaug. Every word, every step, and every breath was heart throbbing. Benedict Cumberbatch might not have been onscreen, but his voice acting was brilliant. Cumberbatch was the highlight of this film and Smaug stole the film. The dialogue was barely worth listening to at some points of the film, but when Smaug and Bilbo start talking you can't help but be reeled in with their conversation.
What also made this film was Howard Shore's score. Shore brings to life Middle-Earth with his music. From the Mirkwood Elves's gloomy, but graceful suite to Smaug's dark, brooding theme, Shore never fails to impress in his score. Even the laziest scene would still have beautiful music behind it.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, goes to prove that Peter Jackson is losing his touch and has overstayed his welcome in Middle-Earth. The special effects were sometimes cheesy, the film was packed with unnecessary characters and storylines, and many characters had no time to develop. Smaug was amazing to watch on screen, and the back and forth between Bilbo and Smaug was beautifully written. The film was only worth watching for the dragon of the mountain.
Good Qualities: Smaug, the third act, and Shore's musical score.
Bad Qualities: Too many characters and too many stories. A lot of unnecessary characters and story arcs.