The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is nearly three hours of superb 3D special effects with enough characters for six movies. Unfortunately it's also a great two hour movie stretched to three stately hours.
Bilbo Baggins (perfect Martin Freeman) and Gandalf (superb Ian McKellen) lead a band of dwarves continuing a quest to get back their homeland Erebor from the evil dragon Smaug.
Thankfully, this second installment of The Hobbit is superior to part one released last holiday season. That film spent so long introducing dwarves that all looked alike it was a 3 hour cure for insomnia.
But like part 1, SMAUG also shows signs of a very short book stretched to its limits and beyond to fill three 3 movies.
Several choices Director Peter Jackson makes might anger purists but worked well for me. Jackson wholly created the character of Tauriel to assist the dwarves on their saga. Any chance to see "Lost"s Evangeline Lily kick butt for three hours is welcome. She also brings along Orlando Bloom as fan favorite Legolas from the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy at her side. Both are welcome additions and add a great deal of action, presence and much needed oomph to the proceedings.
Speaking of presence, Richard Armitage wows as dwarf king Thorin, somehow making his dwarf character as dashing as any six foot+ actor could ever pull off.
Benedict Cumberpatch tops off his breakout 2013 by voicing our title character Smaug. He gives the dragon the perfect blend of evil, power and arrogance to make it a formidable villain.
There are two sequences that really stand out in the film. The first is a battle with giant spiders near the film's start and the second is a long and perfectly executed action sequence as the dwarves escape captivity by hiding in wine barrels that are dropped into a rapids-fast stream on which the Orcs attack and pursue them for miles.
This wine barrel sequence is perfectly executed and reminded me of the mine train escape in Indiana Jones and the Tempe of Doom in its sheer length and perfection on screen. It's a fantastic set piece that wows, especially in 3D.
SMAUG also reminds me of "The Empire Strikes Back" in that it ends abruptly and in mid- sequence, leaving a whole lot of be resolved in part 3.
Let's hope the final chapter manages to pick up the storytelling pace a little more.
Last year, I gave The Hobbit Part 1 a C. We'll give Smaug a B thanks to the upsides of the film that carry you through the third of the film that is pure filler. Anytime Legolas, Tauriel, Thorin or Smaug are on screen, this is a terrific film, albeit a terrific 2 hour film stretched to its breaking point at nearly three. Smaug gets a B.