The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Starring: Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Martin Freeman, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, Evangeline Lilly, Aidan Turner, Sylvester McCoy, Benedict Cumberbatch

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Rating: 1 2 3

Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Here we go again. Christmas in the 21st century just wouldn't be Christmas without our annual three-hour dose of dwarves and hobbits trudging across the New Zealand landscape. Yup, Bilbo and co. are back, still on their quest to infiltrate the lair of the dread dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) to steal a stone that will prove the rightful kingship of head hunky hero dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage, all grizzled, flowing locks, noble profile and commanding Yorkshire tones). Only then can he regain the lost realm of the dwarves and, um, something. Hell, if you wanna know the plot, read the book.

Except, from what I remember (or don't), large parts of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug aren't actually in Tolkein's slim children's tome. Like the beautiful elf warrior maiden, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), who kicks Orc butt like Wonder Woman on steroids with pointy-eared side effects, and in doing so captures the heart not only of our old friend Legolas (Orlando Bloom, looking, through no fault of his own, quite a bit older than he does in The Lord of the Rings films, which take place sixty years later) but also Kili the dwarf, who, even played by Aidan Turner, ain't gonna pull no elf.

Mostly, however, there's the feeling that we've seen this all before (if not in the LOTR franchise then in the Harry Potter films), only this time it's taking longer and looking even more like a high end computer game. There are some thrilling moments (the eye of Sauron reveal, for example) but the thrills tend to dissipate as the action strings out way beyond my capacity to sit still and not need a wee.

Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

A bit less bobbing in barrels, slithering around in piles of gold, swinging on chains and riding in mine carts, Indiana Jones style, whilst withstanding heat no living creature could possibly endure and we'd all have gone home happier. But hey, at least there's no singing.

And there are some cool new characters introduced, including Lee Pace's coolly ruthless wood elf king Thranduil, Stephen Fry's vain, greedy Master of Laketown and his snivelling sidekick Alfrid (Ryan Gage) and Luke Evans' dashing hero-in-the-making, Bard the Bowman. Then of course there's Smaug, who is undoubtedly a magnificent creation, but even his scenes dragged on for far too long. Oh, and there's some seriously cool cyberpunk orc makeup – until the orcs turn from actors to CGI models, and lose all their character, that is.

Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

All in all, The Hobbit Part 2 is not a bad film: despite needing at least half an hour trimmed off its running time, it remains entertaining and enjoyable. But it's not a particularly good film either – not a patch on The Two Towers or Return of the King. And it's certainly not about to win any Oscars, unless they invent one especially for Sir Ian McKellen: best pensioner acting in front of a green screen.

Well, Peter Jackson, you have one more Hobbit film to self-indulgently over-inflate and then it's on to pillage The Silmarillion I suppose, a book so tediously geeky even my husband hasn't read it all the way through. But then again, if you stuff it with bearded male totty and release it in December, I'll probably go see it anyway…

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