Film reviews: The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug

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“YOU’VE changed, Bilbo Baggins,” ponders Ian McKellen. And so has Peter Jackson. Once his Middle Earth movies were dazzling fantasies, but his fussy, orotund expansion of The Hobbit over-enunciates like a National Theatre production of Dungeons and Dragons.

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (12A)

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

Star rating: * * *

Having dealt with dwarf breakfasts in the first section, we now amble towards a dragon’s lunch, with Thorin (Richard Armitage) leading his gang to steal a sacred gem from the golden lair of garrulous Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, who seems to have swallowed Cher’s vocoder).

After the slog of part one, thankfully the pace has picked up a bit, the CGI looks better and there’s plenty of action, including a good, skittery battle with giant spiders. More questionable are Tolkien tinkerings such as Orlando Bloom reprising a Legolas who must be 50 years younger yet looks ten years older, and Jackson’s decision to amp up the female quota by inventing a warrior elf called Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), who fights like Lara Croft before making sheep’s eyes at the only dwarf under 50 (Aidan Turner).

Instead of synthesising girl power, The Desolation Of Smaug really needs to address the problems of a hobbit (Martin Freeman) who remains a guest star in his own story, and narrative digressions such as skin changers and a hallucinatory wood which contribute to a fatal lack of dramatic urgency. Despite Jackson’s busy action trimmings, you could arrive for the last 30 minutes of this film and have all you need to plough on with the trilogy’s finale, There And Back Again.

On general release