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Another year, another Peter Jackson epic about little people walking towards pointy mountains.

What is this? 2002?

After the decent yet slightly underwhelming The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, it was time to kick things up a notch. At least entertainment-wise because one involving action scene in a three-hour-long movie isn't going to cut it.

Not again, anyway.

Luckily, with The Desolation Of Smaug, we need not waste time in The Shire (always the least compelling place in those movies) for there's a Lonely Mountain to finally reach with a big friggin' dragon inside of it. The film, happily, doesn't disappoint. This time around, Bilbo and his dwarf buddies not only face a marijuana-injected forest peopled with big-ass spiders but also an unfriendly bunch of elves, orcs aplenty, some Manimal-style bear dude, Stephen Fry and, of course, good old Benedict Smaug-berbatch. Similarly to how The Fellowship Of The Ring ended, key players in the main story are now separated and given their own little subplots: Gandalf is off doing his own research with hare-riding guano-wearer Radagast and Bilbo kinda does his own thing around the dwarves, who must really enjoy getting captured by this point because it happens like three times in this movie. It may not be perfect but this instalment, at least, is a rollercoaster ride full of energy and cool moments, even if many of those aren't always completely necessary. As with the first film, you can tell there's a lot of filler in there to guarantee that The Hobbit stretches into three movies. Difference is: it's good filler, if that makes sense. Instead of stopping the film dead in its tracks every five minutes to tell us bedtime stories, Peter Jackson makes sure to merge the tangents as well as he can and make them feel like valid parts of the overarching plot. Plus the stuff he adds and the side-tracks we get are at least very solid scenes and/or hugely entertaining action sequences. A romantic subplot involving new female elf character Tauriel, dwarf Kili and familiar face Legolas, a love triangle, could have easily been removed and only tends to slow things down a bit and a Stephen Fry cameo, as nice as it is, feels like Extended Edition material and could have also been cut for time. That said, The Desolation Of Smaug is never boring as there's always something to look at, something to get interested in on screen. If you're a bonafide fan of Middle Earth, especially. It definitely helps that everyone is giving it their all in the cast, even Orlando Bloom who introduces a darker side to an an otherwise familiar character and manages to fit in a cute Gimli joke.

Speaking of "a darker side", this is a darker effort, for sure.

Not The Two Towers dark but almost.

Peter Jackson gets back to his slapstick violence roots and brings us a stunning range of goofy decapitations and 101 creative ways to kill an orc. Also, characters we took for granted as upstanding citizens are given a bit of an edge to the point where you expect most of them to turn to the dark side in the third film. Thorin's motives for taking back the dwarves' mountain are questioned, as is Gandalf's original plan which didn't really account for negative repercussions upon the nearby town, Legolas and his creepy dad King Thranduil (a beautifully camp Lee Pace) are a little off and Bilbo looks like he's having way too much fun stabbing things and wearing his precious little ring. Basically, things aren't looking good and it might be time for everybody to re-evaluate their goals and regroup under a different plan that actually makes sense because, as it stands, with Smaug on a revenge mission, Thorin possibly getting corrupted by the Arkenstone and the rise of Sauron and his orc armies... it looks like Middle Earth might crumble come The Hobbit: There And Back Again, even if we obviously know that some characters will be fine by the end of it all. Some of the best moments in the film include the run-in with those menacing spiders, a cartoonish escape with dwarves jumping in barrels, Legolas surfing on orcs and hopping on heads, Gandalf's mini-fight with Sauron and the thrilling third act. By the time Bilbo finally meets Smaug, you'll probably be wanting a toilet break but you'll find yourself happily holding it as tension builds while the hobbit goes solo and tries to distract the dragon long enough to do his burgling duties and as our dwarf pals finally get together and set into motion a genius, intricate plan to banish the beast from their mountain once and for all. Benedict Cumberbatch may be almost unrecognisable as the voice of Smaug but he does a good job and the character certainly doesn't short-change us visually. It's a terrific, nail-biting, exciting ending to a very solid, if occasionally distracted, second Hobbit movie which might just be on a par with The Fellowship Of The Ring quality-wise and which promises great things for the next flick.

I do miss that epic, catchy hook from the first movie's score, though...

Come on Howard Shore, bring it back!

(you know you want to)

While this franchise shows, once again, that it shouldn't have been split into three movies and shouldn't have concerned itself with being too much of a prequel to the original Lord Of The Rings movies, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug is still a huge step-up from the first movie and is, in fact, a very fine film which should please fans of the original trilogy and those who were left slightly underwhelmed by An Unexpected Journey.

It's more polished, more interesting, funnier, better paced and altogether much more fun.

Now we're Tolkien.

(pun intended and actually kinda proud of)

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