Reviewer: Charity Bishop
If you thought the wait for this film was rough after the end of the first Hobbit film, get to the end of this one and think about waiting to see the grand finale. No former Middle-earth installment has left off on such a massive cliffhanger.
The thirteen dwarves, led by the formidable Thorin (Richard Armitage), have reached the edge of the wild forest. It and the lake beyond is all that lies between them and the Lonely Mountain, where the fallen dwarf kingdom resides. Along on their quest to reclaim the throne under the mountain is their "burglar," a hobbit of the Shire named Bilbo (Martin Freeman). Also with them is Gandalf (Ian McKellen), a wizard, and hot on their heels is the white orc and his minions, eager for Thorin's head. The ramshackle bunch of dwarves stumble their way into the lair of Beorn, the last of the form-changers, and then head into the magical wood. Only Gandalf must abandon them... and the elves of these woodlands are none too friendly to strangers.
The Elven-King Thranduil (Lee Pace) is interested in making an alliance, but Thorin isn't interested. It's one adventure after another, including drawing the attention of Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) and leading to an epic confrontation in the treasure mounds of the mountain with the great dragon, Smaug. It's a formidable effort and one of the better films this year, certainly a huge improvement pacing-wise on the earlier installment. For the most part, I've approved of the changes director Peter Jackson has made to Tolkien's novels in their adaptation for the big screen. He usually takes the best ideas of Tolkien and builds up the personalities of the characters, while also weaving more back history into the tales than the author did. But he has one consistent flaw: he never knows when to stop. Much as I love the original trilogy, the battle scenes are too long there, and they are too drawn out here. I prefer dialogue and plot points over extended fight scenes but Jackson doesn't have a good sense of when to move on. Legolas is the biggest bad-ass in Middle-earth, but he would still be a bad-ass if we saw him kill only twenty orcs instead of forty-five per sequence. As a result, all the action scenes feel a little too long, and tend to draw our focus away from the truly magnificent moments, which rely not on CGI and stunt men, but nuanced performances -- such as Thorin and Thranduil's confrontation.
Having said that, the second installment of the Hobbit trilogy is action-packed, fast-moving (to a point), and includes both some wonderful moments from the book that audiences have been waiting for and unexpected inclusions from the appendixes. And it's some of the more unexpected inclusions that shine the brightest -- such as seeing Gandalf in action as he follows the clues to discern what is waking in the darkness, or the internal politics of the elves. Fans threatened to riot over the inclusion of a new female character named Tauriel, but she's a nice addition, a touch of femininity and compassion that sharply contrasts the narrow focus of the greedy and powerful men and elves who surround her (she stays behind to help a wounded dwarf, while both Thranduil and Thorin take a stance of the live of one being meaningless to them).
The acting is quite wonderful -- but what else would it be? -- and it kept the audience entertained throughout. It's going to please fans of the first film, impress those who are unaware of the changes to the original story, and leave those of us who value the human moments of the story more than the violence longing to get our hands on the extended edition late next year. Sadly, it's going to be a long wait.
One mild innuendo. Implied nudity on a shape-shifter (backside morph, details in shadows).
Tons of battle scenes where orcs get shot with arrows, pummeled with knives, and lose limbs. Giant spiders share the same fate.
Consumption of alcohol.