On par with the first film in this prequel trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug is often entertaining and makes for decent escapism, but it remains flawed.
The visual effects are fantastic. The dwarves’ barrel run, the spiders they fight, and Smaug are easy effects to praise, but so are the less obvious examples. Witness the momentary burn that appears on Thranduil’s (Lee Pace) face, the wound that plaques Killi’s (Aidan Turner) leg, the orc horde Gandalf must face and The Necromancer who commands them, amongst others.
The Desolation of Smaug’s score is beautiful and compliments the rest of the film. Plus, it serves as a reintroduction to Middle Earth, but is new enough to stand on its own.
The performances are all gamely solid, with Martin Freeman’s turn as Bilbo remaining the standout.
Director Peter Jackson skillfully interweaves multiple story lines.
For these reasons alone, the Desolation of Smaug is watchable.
But that doesn’t make it good.
The action sequences are one obvious flaw, if only because they can collectively be summarized as such: thirteen dwarves, one very powerful wizard and a single hobbit fleeing from danger; two elves killing everything in their wake, with barely a challenge; and evil creatures, be they orc or dragon, behaving stupidly, and/or inexplicably mercifully. Multiple times over almost all of the dwarves could have been killed, as could have Bilbo and Gandalf. Yet all repeatedly survive.
The above is especially bothersome in Smaug’s scenes. Jackson’s rendering makes Smaug easily distracted and never committed to killing anyone, all of his boasting to the contrary notwithstanding.
The characters are an even bigger flaw. First, there are still too many of them. The dwarves blend into each other, never developing personalities of their own. Even Bilbo is underdeveloped, as are Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Bard (Luke Evans).
Equally problematically, the central plot is so thin that Jackson and his team of writers opt to fill the film with multiple subplots, including a terribly developed love-triangle, an equally under-explored disagreement between Tauriel and Thranduil, and ultimately pointless dwarven and orc attempts at stealth.
All of which is to say The Desolation of Smaug doesn’t have enough story, characterization or interesting action to justify its length. It would have benefited from hatchet editing of battle sequences and subplots alike. As a ninety-minute action film, this might have been good. As is, it is overlong.
In other words, while somewhat entertaining, The Desolation of Smaug is flawed, and, like its predecessor, a lackluster prequel.