Critics: ‘Desolation of Smaug’ a Vast Improvement Over First ‘Hobbit’
While this writer is a fan and staunch defender of last year's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," he'll admit that the first installment in Peter Jackson's second Middle-earth trilogy could've had a more streamlined narrative and livelier pace. Although it had the unfortunate task of being the first Tolkien adaptation directly following the excellent "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (2003) and was definitely unfairly (though inevitably) compared to its immediate predecessor, "An Unexpected Journey" had some notable flaws that made it a bit of a clunky start to what's arguably one of the most highly anticipated cinematic events of all time.
However, it appears that fans of Tolkien's stories and Jackson's affectionate — if sometimes overstuffed — interpretation of them can now celebrate accordingly: The first reviews of "The Desolation of Smaug" are in, and so far critics are unanimously calling it a superior film to its predecessor in every department.
"Who could guess, after the meandering first feature in a seemingly unnecessary eight-hour trilogy of films based on a novel of less than 300 pages, that Peter Jackson had such a vigorous and thrilling middle episode in store?" writes Richard Corliss of Time magazine, who includes the film on his Top 10 Best Movies of 2013 list. Corliss calls "Smaug" a "splendid achievement," one that's "close to the grandeur of Jackson's 'Lord of the Rings' films."
Justin Chang of Variety agrees that the film trumps "An Unexpected Journey" by a mile, writing that it "immediately evinces a livelier pace and a heightened sense of urgency." Chang says it's a "far more purposeful" second chapter, one with "a headier sense of forward momentum and a steady stream of 3D-enhanced thrills" and that its "sense of danger rarely flags."
Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter agrees that while "An Unexpected Journey" was a bit meandering, "Smaug" is all about staying on target. "Everything about 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' represents an improvement over the first installment" with "a sense of storytelling that possesses palpable energy and purpose," he writes.
"Middle-earth's got its mojo back," writes Nick de Semlyen in his five-star review at Empire, calling the film "a huge improvement on the previous installment" that's "moody, urgent and, for want of a better word, Ringsier."
Bill Desowitz of Thompson on Hollywood likes the film's "lighter, more swashbuckling tone," and goes so far as to mention "The Desolation of Smaug" in the same sentence as some classic second chapters of other beloved franchises: "Like 'The Two Towers,' and in keeping with 'The Godfather' and 'Star Wars' trilogies, this middle movie might prove to be the most satisfying, freed from exposition and closure."
Evangeline Lilly (Credit: Warner Bros.)
However, Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter is a fan of "the foxy archer fancied by Legolas (Orlando Bloom)," pointing out that "Women action figures and romantic subplots were not Tolkien's thing, so even the acknowledgment of sexual attraction represents a radical step in this context."