“This is finally the trilogy standing on its own two hairy hobbit feet”.
Enter the dragon! Peter Jackson‘s middle chapter of his Hobbit trilogy puts aside the playful bedtime story tones of its opening film, and gets back to reorientating us into the world of Middle Earth to finally knuckle down into the heart of the action and drama. Expanding on an already vast array of characters, locations and iconic set pieces, this movie ups the stakes and feels a mile away from normality in every sense of the word. It’s the difficult second act of a story so iconic in children’s literature that has to play up to fan expectation in many ways, almost lifting the words off the page and on to screen.
Deep into the wilderness, the company of thirteen dwarves along with Bilbo Baggins (played by Martin Freeman) continue to venture closer to the lonely mountain, attempting to reclaim their home kingdom of Erebor. With evil forces hot on their tracks, aswell as the men and elves of the world keen to know the truth of their quest, they have but one chance to enter a secret passage to their homeland and revel in the rich treasure that awaits. But one big obstacle stands in their way: the all powerful dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).
Linking it within the Middle Earth we know, structurally, the first film had been accused of mirroring Fellowship Of The Ring too much, in its location order and overall narrative, but this film is in no way a Two Towers copy. You have the introduction of an iconic villainous computer generated achievement; you have the luxury of the Middle Earth expanse in the form of Lake Town, brilliantly lead by Stephen Fry‘s corrupt power seeking master; plus, you have more than one significant threat for our heroes to contend with, but that’s where the similarity ends.
Individual action moments romp along as you can see Jackson’s nine-year-old inner self choreographing non stop mayhem. From giant spiders to Orcs, he shows you ways to take out baddies that you never thought were possible. Plus he clearly pours his love of nastiness and body horror tropes that has always been present in his films for us to admire – whether it’s decapitating orcs or the disgusting sounds of a spider’s hiss and screeches – it’s all there to enjoy.
Martin Freeman carries on his journey as the mumbling Bilbo Baggins, his character completely out of his depth in his newly discovered environments but still having a courageous heart. Richard Armitage as Thorin loses his kingly feel this time around a little as the perilous adventure becomes more serious, but his importance to the group and mentality are crucial to his story in the film. Even the company of dwarves have individual moments to shine, also Ian McKellen having a separate plot line with Gandalf that he’s able to carry off is just as exciting as the main story. But the newest characters in this story are a welcome addition; Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman is terrific as the family man entrusted to show the consequences of our heroes actions, aswell as Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, an elf of Mirkwood who brings her feminine presence greatly to a predominately male story.
And what of our main villain? Peter Jackson has always had an inherent love of monsters even from an early age, and he’s walked the brave line of putting his faith in his visual effects to bring timeless characters to the screen. Gollum nailed The Two Towers, then Kong carried King Kong, and now the fire breathing dragon Smaug who roamed terror in the minds of children’s bedtime stories, has allowed him to complete his hat trick of beautifully crafted monsters. He is an astonishing achievement, the charm of Gollum and the chaos of Kong rolled into one. Smaug’s weight, sound, movements and look is as good as you’ll ever see with his introduction timed beautifully, but it’s the charm and charisma as he swathes around his domain that’ll make him even more memorable.
This is finally the trilogy standing on its own two hairy hobbit feet, and what a ride it brings with it. It’s relentless, not allowing you to ease off and ponder its many themes, but that’s where the film succeeds. Jackson’s stance of wanting his Middle Earth to feel historical has been put to one side and this feels his most fantastical film to date, with his final visit to Middle Earth on part three looking all the more enticing.