The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (2013) Movie Review


Martin Freeman in The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug (2013) Movie Image

When the “Lord of the Rings” movies dropped, people got crazy pumped for the release of the extended editions. A year from now, when the last of Peter Jackson’s three “Hobbit” movies has come and gone, I’m excited for someone to splice them together, hack out all the superfluous crap, and finally reveal the single good movie that I know is hidden in there somewhere. It should be about three hours long. What we’ve seen thus far, including the latest, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” has been nothing but a disappointment. Overlong, bloated, and tedious, Jackson even did something that I’d have thought impossible, he made a giant, fire-breathing dragon voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch boring as shit.

For a movie called “The Hobbit” there is woefully little seen of the diminutive hero. Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is always around, but only as a background character, a member of the chorus. Only when his travelling company finally meets the dragon does he take center stage, and even then he’s only there as long as he has to be. The focus of “The Desolation of Smaug” is the dwarves’ mission to retake their lost kingdom. This all sounds promising, right? Quests, adventure, dragons, wizards, orcs, prophecies, battles, and all manner of fun. It doesn’t sound like that even could go wrong, but oh boy does it ever.

Richard Armitage in The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug (2013) Movie Image

The problem with following the dwarves is that they have no personality. Each one has a bunch of wacky facial hair, but most of them barely have names, only there to fill space and provide comic relief. With Bilbo’s story pushed to the side, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) becomes the de facto protagonist, but his blind ambition and singular tunnel vision makes him so goddamned dull that you have no interest in his exploits. Add to this he’s a complete and total asshole, and you’re left without anyone to root for. Greedy, hungry for power and glory, and proud to a fault—he’d rather that he and his friends rot in a dungeon than do a mutual favor for Thranduil (Lee Pace) because of a tedious melodramatic blood feud between dwarves and elves—you don’t want him to succeed because he’s such a dick.

Jackson buries all narrative momentum under mounds of useless asides. The pace is all over, up and down with little or no transition from scene to scene. Just when things begin to move along at a steady clip, “Smaug” drives head first into a tree. You don’t give a damn about things like the inner political turmoil of Lake Town, especially not when you can see the finish line. There are multiple awkward romantic threads that involve the elf warrior Tauriel (Evangeline Lily)—a character who is made the fuck up as filler, by the way—that leave you making a face like a confused dog. Is she really going to bang a mullet-wearing dwarf? “The Desolation of Smaug” is 161-minutes long, and you slog through every single one, wishing Jackson had paid more attention to the flow of the story than with trying to wow you with his visual prowess. He’s far more concerned with what Mirkwood Forrest looks like than with giving you anyone to cheer for.

The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug (2013) Movie Image

It’s like Jackson stopped caring about story and character. Isn’t the point of adapting a book you supposedly love because of the story? Originally, he wasn’t supposed to direct these movies, so maybe he really doesn’t give a damn. If “Smaug” is an indication, he’s more interested in playing with huge CGI set pieces, and staging one of most elaborate, nonsensical, pointless climaxes in cinema, than establishing a coherent narrative or creating actual characters. When the dwarves battle Smaug in the heart of the Lonely Mountain, it’s like watching someone play a video game. You maneuver your little avatar to one side of the room to flip that lever, then you start this big wheel spinning, which starts the furnaces heating the gold, and on and on. And when you finally get all the switches flipped the right way, then you can unleash the fancy weapon against the big boss of your level.

Except that it doesn’t mean anything. All the effort, all the hoops the characters jump through, amount to absolutely nothing. All it does is take up time. “Desolation of Smaug,” the middle of the trilogy, aims to be the “Empire Strikes Back” of the trio. The end is dark, the ultimate fate of the heroes is unclear, and everything is just kind of shitty. But their attempts to leave you hanging fail miserably. When the movie concludes, all you can do is throw up your hands, turn to the person next to you, and ask, “what was the point of all that?”

Richard Armitage in The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug (2013) Movie Image

Even the best parts of “The Desolation of Smaug” don’t stand out. There are a few nice action scenes, including a running battle between orcs, elves, and dwarves along a river, but they’re never more than okay. You can’t escape the fact that you’ve seen this all done bigger and, more importantly, better in every chapter of the “Lord of the Rings.” One improvement this installment makes over the previous entry is that the action largely avoids the gimmicks of the first film. You get some, like an implausible—and we’re talking implausible in a world of wizards and magic—barrel roll, and feats of balance that push even the bounds of what you know Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is capable of.

You could forgive almost all of the problems in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” if there was a single character to care about, or even know, but there’s no one. The film is a series of guys dressed up in elaborate costumes running around, narrowly cheating death, and it’s insanely frustrating that the film never amounts to anything more than that.

Peter Jackson (writer/director)/J.R.R. Tolkien (novel)/Guillermo del Toro (writer)/Fran Walsh (writer)/Philippa Boyens (writer)
CAST: Martin Freeman…Bilbo Baggins
Ian McKellen…Gandalf
Richard Armitage…Thorin Oakenshield
Orlando Bloom…Legolas
Tauriel…Evangeline Lilly
Luke Evans…Bard
Benedict Cumberbatch…Smaug

Buy The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug on DVD

Author: Brent McKnight

Brent McKnight lives in Seattle with his dogs. He likes beards, movies where things explode, and overcast skies. His three favorite movies are "Rubin and Ed", "A Bittersweet Life", and "Out for Justice". He wishes his knees didn't hurt. On Twitter @BrentMMcKnight
  • Chris

    What with these reactions!!! Alot are saying the movie is fast-paced and action-packed while a big handful of people who say it’s meandering and boring as hell!! Wow, make up your fucking minds!!

    • Brent

      It’s a lot like riding in a car with someone who is either all gas or all brake.There will be a fast action sequence, followed immediately by ten minutes where nothing happens beyond characters scowling at each other.

  • Kor Fostata

    Stupid review! It’s just that simple…

  • Clayton

    This review is unprofessional and lacks any real substance. Because I read this, I will now be going to see this movie

    • Aegon the Conqueror

      Go see it, you won’t be disappointed, a lot his reasons why he didn’t enjoy the movie were actually awesome parts.

  • Don

    Unprofessional is right. I hope your reviews never come up in my news feed. Ever. Etiquette and having substance for your opinions go a long way.

  • Dedpool

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but will this weekend. But Reading the review makes me think I’m going to see a different film than you saw. I loved the first film, and think the “Superflous” additions help connect the story to the LoTR trilogy. They aren’t random things that Jackosn came up with (that’s Tauriel, and people seem to like her) but straigh from all the lost and additional content of Tolkien. Also when you mention that Jakcson seems to care more about what Mirkwood looks liek than telling a story, but the same could be said of Tolkien’s LoTR books. There are paragrpahs that go on and on describing the forrests and the elven kingdoms, but the story itself is kinda glossed and told in a broing historical fashion. At least the Hobbit reads like a story. That said if they crammed it all into a 3 hour film, it would feel rushed. There is A LOT that happens in this story and we’d have had an hour for each act and that wouldn’t work. It may seem drawn out, but we’ll get a more complete story that way.

    I will keep my fingers crossed hoping I am not disappointed. But I haven’t been so far.

    • Suzuran Crow

      I’m in the same boat – I loved the first Hobbit movie, I thought it was humorous and it just brought me back to watching the LotR trilogy when I was younger. I can’t wait to see the next one, probably at the weekend sometime, it should be awesome.

    • Brent

      Jackson is obviously trying to connect this to LotR, which is fine, and I didn’t have as much of a problem with it in the first film, but in this one it takes precedence over the story. In fact, everything seems to take precedence over the core story. Bilbo may as well not even be in the movie for large chunks. You can have all of the extra stuff, but there is so much of it that the film has no focus.I was really excited about these movie because I wanted to see Bilbo’s story, but in this movie, anyway, you don’t.

      • Dedpool

        But see in my opinion the book is called the Hobbit but Bilbo was always an anciliary character until the end, except for the part in the cave with Gollum. Bilbo was always pretty much just along for the ride. Had it been all about Bilbo then people would say the dwarves got no love and it’s really their story. But hey will hold judgment til I see it but doubt I will feel the same as you and Nix do.

        • Brent

          He is primarily along for the ride in the book, in an action sense, but I still always felt like the story was his, It was about his journey, his interpretation of the world outside the Shire, and his take on the adventure and how it effects him. (Granted, it’s been a while since I read the book, but that was always my take on it.)

          I’d even be okay with putting the dwarves up front, if only there was any characterization at all. Most of them are completely interchangeable, and Thorin is so monotone, so one note, that he’s not particularly interesting.

          I’m curious to hear what you think. Hit me up when you see it and we can discuss matters further.

          • Dedpool

            Most definitely. I defintiely get where people are coming from with these. Like I get the pace of the first film was slow (and I agree, but so was the first LoTR, and it had to be to introduce/re-introduce the world and characters) and I understand about this one two. Like I said in my writings, I like to play devil advocate for things that people have issues with, especially when it comes to adaptations. Jackson has a real love for these chracters and this world and the stories. I don’t think he’s doing things for the sake of doing them. Hell I think he’s trying to give fans what they want (without them knowing it) I look at what he’s doing as adding the material from the appendicies and lost writings in chronological order, so we see them as they happened as opposed to getting flash backs or something. As for the Dwarves I’ll have to wait and see. Was hoping that they got more time.

  • Nix

    Funny, Brent, I felt the exact same way about the first movie. Long, dull, idiotic, and pointless.

    • Brent

      If you felt that way about the first one, this one is even more out of control.

      • Nix

        It was fun, don’t get me wrong, but I sort of tuned out after the 4th big super exciting action sequence with orcs or mountain people or whatever.

  • TronSheridan

    PJ is bastardizing The Hobbit in order to create Ep. 1-3 of a first LotR trilogy. For long time fans of the book it’s very disappointing. Those who know nothing of the books will probably love these movies. I don’t hate them, but I’m just disappointed that I don’t love them like the LotR movies.

  • Aegon the Conqueror

    Well a quick survey does reveal almost all the professional critics disagreed with you strongly.

    • Shawn

      How dare someone have a dissenting opinion. Gasp. And there are a decent number of negative reviews. Just look at places like Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic, there are plenty of critics who didn’t like it.

      I saw it last night, and I agree with many of these points. Not quite to the same extent, there is still some fun, but there are big problems, too.

      • Aegon the Conqueror

        I’m just saying if the greater majority of people who get paid to write reviews opinions differ greatly with your own then perhaps your judgement of the movie was wrong.

        • Brent

          Ha ha, paid, you’re funny.

        • Dedpool

          It’s an opinion. Everyone is entitled to one, and those that can back them up are free to share them. Not everyone has to agree with a review.

  • Dedpool

    Okay my turn to weigh in! I loved it. I kinda saw where it would end, and it makes sense for the third film to start with such a major confrontation and then end with an even bigger one. Sorry I have to disagree with you Brent. I thought the pacing was decent, and whenever it slowed down it was to tell story. Yes it was story that wasn’t originally part of the Hobbit book, but it was happening at the time nonetheless. That and it makes for a better story dramatically if we actually KNOW where Gandalf is going when he just leaves them too their own fates. I think Jackson did a very good job dividing screen time between characters. Yes Thorin is a kind of a dick, and such but not everyone is going to be likeable. I do agree the dwarves don’t get much to distinguish them but they don’t in the book either, major characters get the time and among the dwarves it’s Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Killi, and Filli, and a bit of Gloin (Gimli’s dad). What we’re supposed to get out of it is a small character study, and a lesson in the pride and stuborness of Dwarves. It’s their major weaness, like power is for man. And thought they were written at different times, this story is about how a person can fall prey and be consumed by their weakness, while LoTR is a show of how a person can rise to the occaision (Thorin and Aragorn respectively). I always took the title of “The Hobbit” much like titles that are taken from a line in a story or an idea, where they are not the main focus but are a prevalent part. But we still get a lot of Bilbo, and yes his part is mainly towards the end but that’s always the way it’s been, he’s just along for the ridfe and we’re there with him. I really liked the contrast between Thorin and Balin, as he sees the quest taking it’s toll on Throin and doesn’t want to see his friend fall into the same madness as his grandfather before him.
    As for the extra stuff, Tauriel was badass!! Nuff Said!! I mean seriously! And the other stuff was pretty cool in my opinion. The prison, the stuff with the Necromancer, and the eventual reveal were just cool, and sets up the big battle at the end of the next film. I can’t wait.

    • Dedpool

      Oh, and by far the best 3D I’ve seen ever!!

      • Aegon the Conqueror

        Was even better in 48FPS. That bee was bloody amazing and the spider sequence had me backing into my chair away from the screen numerous times.

  • Aegon the Conqueror

    Saw it today in 48FPS and I must say I think you and I saw two very different films. I enjoyed it greatly, there isn’t as much filler in as you would suggest. With the exception of Tauriel (who I really liked) and the addition of Bard’s family nothing of import was added that did not take place in the Appendices of LOTR. I for one wanted something like this, you cannot have too much of middle earth imo.

    BTW did you guys all catch Peter Jackson and his famous carrot in Bree?

    • Dedpool

      I’m with you 100% Cumberbatch as Smaug was just so much fun! “Lovely titles!” And dammit man I missed him!

      • Aegon the Conqueror

        If you go and see it again, look for the intro into Bree, right as they sweep up the street before the Prancing Pony sign. Peter steps up for a split second, looks at the camera and takes a bite from his carrot, like he did in Fellowship.