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Movie Review: "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"

Warner Bros.(NEW YORK) -- The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a vastly different movie than its predecessor, last year's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which at times was unexpectedly boring and laborious.

From the outset of this film, an extremely brief cameo by director Peter Jackson, followed by a meeting between Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) and dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) in a seedy Middle Earth pub, immediately injects the humor and color the first movie lacked. It is a proper taste of things to come.

The scene itself takes place a year before An Unexpected Journey and chronicles the first meeting between Gandalf and Thorin, who wasn’t expecting the wizard.  But Gandalf knew exactly where the dwarf king would be, and it is here that the plan germinates to destroy the dragon, Smaug, reclaim the ancient dwarf kingdom, and take back the Arkenstone.

Cut to a year later.  Gandalf, the dwarves and their hobbit buddy, Bilbo (Martin Freeman), are trying to make their way to the Lonely Mountain and Smaug.  This time, it’s not just the orcs who are after the dwarf platoon -- they get ensnared by some magnificently horrifying spiders, which requires Bilbo to summon up some of his newly-discovered courage.  It also leads to their capture by the wood elves.

This is where Orlando Bloom returns to reprise his role as the elven warrior Legolas, ten years after the final Lord of the Rings film.  However, here he's some 50 years younger than when we first met him.  He's also joined by Lost’s Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, a fierce elf and one of the best embodiments of a strong female warrior you will ever see.  These two help The Desolation of Smaug jump off the screen in all of its 3D, 48 frames-per-second glory.  Though they don't appear in the book The Hobbit, these two are the coolest characters in this film, possessing a perfect, quiet confidence that's both deadly and endearing.  Lilly, who should be in more movies, has great chemistry with Aidan Turner, who plays the dwarf Kili.  The sexual tension between them is one of the many devices used by Jackson and company to make The Desolation of Smaug truly an unexpected, unpredictable and delightful journey.

My only complaint is that it takes so long to get to Smaug, the dragon, that I began to feel a bit desolate myself.  But that slight cinematic transgression can be interpreted as an artistic choice, in order to allow us to feel the long and treacherous journey our heroes had to endure to get there.  And besides, the payoff is fantastic. Smaug, voiced by the suddenly ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch (Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness), is spectacular. His give-and-take with Bilbo (Cumberbatch and Freeman are also Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, respectively, in the hit British TV show Sherlock) is terrifying yet -- forgive me -- precious.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug isn’t just better than An Unexpected Journey, it accomplishes something the latter did not: it feels as if it belongs with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's infused with that kind of originality and excitement that will not only get you pumped for the third movie, it will make you want to see this one again.

Four-and-a-half out of five stars.

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