In Peter Jackson’s second in the Hobbit trilogy (aka “stretching a slim story to 8 hours+”) Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) with Thorin (Richard Armitage) – the man who would be king – and a company of dwarfs continue their quest to the Lonely Mountain in search of the Arkenstone – a mythical white jewel that will restore the dwarf kingdom to its former glory. Unfortunately, the jewel is part of the extensive treasury under the ruined town of Dale ruled over by Smaug the dragon, voiced (splendidly) by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Against this background, the dark power of Sauron is insidiously growing, something that Gandalf the White (Ian McKellen) is becoming progressively aware of.
This is a much better film than the opening episode. In that first film, I personally felt I was going to suffer a claustrophobic attack, such was the elapsed time that the dwarfs took feeding themselves in the Hobbit hole. (Peter Jackson should really take a crash course in editing: if he wants to save another 90 minutes worth for the Blu-ray fan-boy cut, then that’s up to him.)
In this sequel (or second prequel if you prefer), although still overlong the story zips along in a much more satisfactory manner. The characterisations are good as well: Bilbo’s character is seen to change under the weight of the ring as the film develops. Martin Freeman achieves this much more subtly than Elijah Wood portrayed it in the first film.
Luke Evans impresses as Bard the bowman (although be seems to be more of a bargeman). Bard is the Luke
Skywalker of the oppressed people of Lake-town, ruled over by the Master of Lake-town (Stephen Fry, hamming it up beautifully in a perfectly suited role for him). Orlando Bloom returns as Legolas, looking, despite the best attempts of the make-up artists, a bit older and craggier than in the Lord of the Rings films: rather unfortunate as this is a prequel. Perhaps elves age backwards like Benjamin Button? Joining him in a love triangle with one of the dwarfs – Kili (Aidan Turner) – is Tauriel (played by Lost’s Evangeline Lilly, looking particularly shapely and a dab hand with the bow).
The special effects are as good as you would expect from this series with a barrel-chase down a raging river particularly well staged. Poor orcs are dispatched left right and centre. As in Austin Powers, the life of an evil henchman is particularly hard: will noone think of their families?
The flimsiness of the original source material is the primary problem with this film. Jackson has needed to pad and fill aspects of the story with his own material. Tauriel for example is an entirely fictitious character created for the film. This leads to parts of the film, notably the section with Gandalf’s quest, being rather nonsensical unless I was missing something. He goes haring off to the High Fells, apparently to find fellow-wizard Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) and realise that evil has awoken again. He then drags poor Radagast halfway across the country to Dol Guldur only to tell him at the doorstep to bugger off and not wait up! Confusing!
Overall though, this was highly entertaining although I still wish these three films had remained at two. The film was well set up for the third and final installment: “I am Fire – I am Death” intones Cumberbatch. Fans of the series will love it. As regards non-fans, the wife declared it as “not as interminable as I expected” which is probably as much praise as it was ever going to get.
Fad Rating: FFFf.