The Good (and Not-So-Good) of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug | YTS YIFY

ytsfreeSeptember 21, 2022

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The world of Middle-Earth has been brought to life on-screen on several occasions throughout the years, with the most recent being Prime Video’s The Rings of Power. Prior to this series, the most recent explorations into the fantasies of J.R.R. Tolkien came in the form of the trilogy of films based on The Hobbit. Director Peter Jackson’s adaptations of The Lord of the Rings in the early 2000s are lauded as one of the best trilogies ever put on screen. The Hobbit films have a more complicated legacy, though.


The first film in the trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, certainly has its ups and downs. The reaction to the film was mostly positive when it was released in December 2012, but its follow-up, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, is often considered to be the best of the trilogy. Released a year after the first film, The Desolation of Smaug picks up right where An Unexpected Journey left off, with Bilbo, Gandalf, and the company of Dwarves being chased by Azog the Defiler while on their journey to the Lonely Mountain, Erebor.

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While The Desolation of Smaug is certainly a step up from An Unexpected Journey, the film still features a few lackluster elements that hold it back from reaching the same heights as The Lord of the Rings. Here are the best and worst aspects of the second Hobbit film.


Good: New Additions to the Cast

As the story for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug expands from that of An Unexpected Journey, so too does the film’s cast. While The Hobbit already had an excellent cast consisting of Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, and more, The Desolation of Smaug brings a lot of heavy hitters into the prequel trilogy of Middle-Earth films. As the Dwarves’ adventure leads them into Mirkwood and the Woodland Realm, there are several Elven characters who make their debut. One of the best is Thranduil (who was only seen briefly in the first film), played by Lee Pace. As the ruler of the Woodland Realm, Thranduil carries a certain regality that Pace thoroughly embodies. His booming voice is a perfect match for the character, and Pace firmly establishes himself as one of the all-time great Elves in Middle-Earth on-screen.

In a change from the book to the movie, the character of Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is also featured in The Desolation of Smaug. Although some fans complained about the inclusion of the character, his appearance in the film does make sense considering his age and that he is the son of Thranduil. Looking back at the book, the only real reason Legolas isn’t in it is because Tolkien hadn’t created the character yet. It wasn’t for lack of his existence in Mirkwood at the time of the story’s events. Regardless, it’s fun to see Bloom in the role again after he famously played the character in the Lord of the Rings films a decade prior. Legolas is often accompanied by Tauriel in the film, a new Elven character created for the film who is played by Evangeline Lilly. While the character may not be the most well-regarded part of the film, that is not the fault of Lilly, who gives a solid performance as the character.

Finally, as the Dwarves arrive at Lake Town and Erebor, the audience is introduced to Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman and Benedict Cumberbatch as the dragon Smaug. Evans basically becomes a co-lead of this trilogy immediately when he shows up in the second half of the film, which is a decision that carries through into the third film as well. Bard is an interesting character who brings a new dynamic into the film, as he’s a good person who disagrees with the Dwarves’ journey, and Evans brings him to life wonderfully. Cumberbatch as Smaug, on the other hand, is one of the best parts of all three of these films. He’s perfectly cast in the role, and he is one of the most engaging parts of the entire film. Knowing that he gave his performance through motion capture only adds to the fun of it all. As for the depiction of Smaug himself, more on that later.

Not-So-Good: The Romance Between Kili and Tauriel

The Hobbit films often buckle under the weight of their immense size. Considering a trilogy of nearly three-hour-long films was squeezed out of a book that is only about 300 pages in length, there are a lot of additions to the story that are pretty much only there to fill the runtime. The romance between the Dwarf Kili and the Elf Tauriel is one of said additions that simply does not work.

Now, that’s not to say that there shouldn’t have been any romance within the Hobbit movies, as one of the best aspects of the Lord of the Rings films was the romance between Aragorn and Arwen. However, Kili and Tauriel are no Aragorn and Arwen. In the first film, Kili was established as little more than just a sarcastic young Dwarf in the company, and Tauriel’s introduction in this second film is almost solely just to be a part of this romance. Neither character is particularly interesting or important to the story, and so all of the time spent on developing a romance between them just feels like an aside that doesn’t really matter.

Evangeline Lilly and Aiden Turner (who plays Kili) do their best to sell the relationship, but they have very little chemistry together and the writing doesn’t do them any favors. The addition of this romance into the story is almost painfully contrived. It doesn’t feel like a natural extension of the plot, nor does it add much to the overall narrative. Instead, it’s just a cliché and frankly tedious subplot that is just wasting the audience’s time in a film that is already over two-and-a-half hours long.

Related: Every Lord of the Rings and Hobbit Movie, Ranked

Good: A More Serious Tone

While one of the downsides of An Unexpected Journey was how silly it could be, that silliness is (almost) entirely gone from The Desolation of Smaug. In the second Hobbit film, Jackson fully embraces the same epic tone of The Lord of the Rings, and it serves the film well. The cartoon nature of some of the Dwarves is toned down (thereby reducing many of their roles), and the attention of the film is shifted almost solely toward the quest at hand. The journey of The Desolation of Smaug feels more focused and grander in scale than the previous film. Each new predicament the company finds itself in brings a new danger to the table, which moves the plot along quickly, and keeps the audience engaged the whole time.

With the exception of the barrel riding sequence, which carries on for far too long and does dip back into the silliness of the first film, the action sequences of The Desolation of Smaug are generally a lot better than those in An Unexpected Journey. They’re exciting, occasionally scary, and genuinely entertaining to watch. The film throws the audience right into the deep end as it opens with the Dwarves on the run from Azog and his orcs, while also evading the skin-changer Beorn, who chases the company in the form of a giant bear. Beyond that, the spider sequence in Mirkwood is also excellent, as is the extended sequence of Smaug pursuing the Dwarves and attempting to burn them to a crisp inside the Lonely Mountain.

Not-So-Good: The Orcs and Dol Goldur

While An Unexpected Journey goes out of its way to establish the white orc Azog as the central antagonist of the film, the plot with the orcs chasing the Dwarves becomes unnecessary baggage in The Desolation of Smaug. Azog is completely replaced by Smaug as the villain of the film, and honestly, that might’ve been for the better. Smaug is a far more interesting antagonist, both in concept and design. Meanwhile, Azog spends most of The Desolation of Smaug sulking around the castle of Dol Goldur while the film introduces yet another white orc, Azog’s son Bolg, to take his place as the lead Dwarf-chaser of the movie.

The reason for Azog’s lack of agency in the film is because the character is pulled into the subplot with Sauron rebuilding his strength in Dol Goldur, which is added to serve as a direct set-up for The Lord of the Rings. While it is understandable why Jackson would want to include this plot in the film, and it is cool to see Gandalf investigate and inadvertently enter a one-on-one magic battle with Sauron himself, the film spends way too much time sitting around doing nothing with the orcs in the dark castle.

The entire subplot just feels undercooked. The introduction of Bolg, and his replacing of Azog in chasing the Dwarves, just feels strange considering how much work the first film did to set up the rivalry between Azog and Thorin. Lazily swapping Bolg into that plot instead of Azog just doesn’t make sense. Perhaps it would if Azog were given more to do elsewhere, but he instead stands around Dol Goldur and yells at a shadow that is supposed to be Sauron. It doesn’t make a whole lot of narrative sense, and it doesn’t add much to the overall movie (outside of the aforementioned one cool bit with Gandalf).

Related: The Hobbit Actor Blames Studio Interference for Trilogy’s Poor Performance

Good: Smaug the Terrible

The real strength of The Desolation of Smaug comes in the final act with the introduction of the titular dragon played by Cumberbatch. Smaug is one of the most recognizable dragons in modern literature and one of the most iconic aspects of the original Hobbit novel. Thankfully, just as Jackson perfectly adapted the Riddles in the Dark sequence in An Unexpected Journey, pretty much everything about Smaug is wonderfully brought to life in this movie.

The dragon is introduced during Bilbo’s exploration of Erebor in search for the Arkenstone, and the sequence that follows is one of the best that this trilogy of films has to offer. Bilbo and Smaug enter a tense discussion, as Smaug tries to deduce Bilbo’s purpose and Bilbo is just trying to stay alive by playing into the dragon’s immense ego. The two go back and forth, playing a verbal game of chess and it is thrilling to behold. Bilbo meeting Smaug is one of the most key moments in the entire Hobbit story, and Jackson really nails his adaptation of it.

Just as the inclusion of Gollum was the ace up An Unexpected Journey’s sleeve, the introduction of the dragon is the ace up The Desolation of Smaug’s. Considering the sheer amount of Smaug that is included in the third act of the film, the second Hobbit movie really ends on a high note. Smaug is far-and-away the best part of The Desolation of Smaug, and the dragon’s depiction on-screen is reason enough to watch the film. It makes sitting through the two hours of the movie’s hit-and-miss story leading up to the dragon all worth it in the end. The final act of The Desolation of Smaug is about 80% of the reason why it is considered to be the best of the three Hobbit movies. It’s exciting, it’s tense, it’s visually impressive, and it’s just simply great fantasy filmmaking.

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