Spiders. Dragons. Ursine shapeshifters… If you felt that An Unexpected Journey was somewhat lacking in the weird-and-wonderful creatures department, you’re sure to be placated by the second entry in Peter Jackson’s prequel trilogy.
Picking up where first film left off, The Desolation Of Smaug sees Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and his dwarf companions continuing their quest to reclaim the treasure buried underneath the Lonely Mountain, while Gandalf (Ian McKellen) investigates the growing evil at the spooky fortress of Dol Guldur.
With our heroes’ travels taking them to the sinister forest of Mirkwood and the Venetian-style outpost of Laketown, TDOS sees Jackson exploring uncharted corners of Middle-earth, giving us a much fresher, more varied and wondrous journey than that of AUJ. It’s also stuffed with a host of inventive set-pieces – the encounter with Mirkwood’s giant arachnids offers genuine chills, while the barrel sequence is a masterclass in big-budget spectacle.
With new surroundings comes a host of new (and old) characters. A younger Legolas (Orlando Bloom), headstrong warrior elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and heroic Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) are welcome additions, but Mikael Persbrandt’s Beorn the Bear gets short-changed.
The swelling cast also means Jackson comes close to losing focus on his furry-footed hero. Nonetheless, Freeman’s warm, witty adventurer is the trump card and his tense, funny and deliciously scripted exchange with Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch, spitting out lines with great presence despite his impressive mo-cap mechanics) is this film’s high point.
Of course, this theatrical-version release is a taster for the inevitable Extended Edition. For now, Blu-ray buyers will have to make do with a 20-minute featurette, production videos (already online), Ed Sheeran music vid and a five-minute New Zealand promo (the only DVD bonus of note).
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