I was very disappointed with this one. I rank it below AUJ, most certainly.
It's also by quite a distance the worst of the Middle Earth films so far.
I still think the 3rd one could be great, but in my opinion they saved too much of the good stuff for film 3 ( this is obvious really) and have filled the second film with wall-to-wall silliness from start to finish. The nonsense level is notched up dramatically in this film. Very little that you see makes sense. Even within a fantasy world there has to be some sense of logic and internal consistency in order to suspend disbelief, and Jackson breaks that again and again in this film. I can only marvel at the fact that this film has not been crushed in advance reviews for how video game like it is. Not that the CGI is bad, but there is just so much of it, and so in your face, all the time. Hundreds of orcs get killed in this one, but Tauriel and Legolas just cruise through everything in video game fashion. Even the dwarves, who at no point have shown any special martial abilities, will constantly prevail against any sort of Orc/goblin. Even mighty Smaug can't even catch a single dwarf whilst he is roaring his enormous fire through Erebor. And that is only one of many things that makes no sense.
What else is bad?
1) Beorn. Aside from the fact that he doesn't look as impressive as I had expected either in man or bear form( come on, Tolkien's description was explicit and full of colour, and with this Beorn they have just gone for an odd, curious looking individual rather than the powerful and imposing sort), he is hardly in this film. A few minutes at best, and that is hugely surprising given that they felt they needed to make 3 long films. It's a significant episode in the book, and he's a much loved character to boot, all the more reason to spend more time with him rather than less. As I said, this whole sequence just flies by in 4 or 5 minutes and we're off into Mirkwood. I'm sure the Extended Edition will add scenes here, but it's the theatrical that should have done better here already. There is no notable backstory about him having been tortured in Dol Guldur which all the "making of" books refer to. Despite all the rumours about him being present with Gandalf and Radagast at Dol Guldur ( as indicated in the just released lego sets for instance) we never see him there. Jackson said they shot many more scenes with Persbrandt because they liked his performance so much, Persbrandt even travelled to New Zealand 7 times for shoots and re-shoots. You would never know by the end products that is this film. Maybe we will see it in film 3, like most everything else that matters.
2) The band of Dwarves. With Thorin becoming more and more irritating and unsympathetic, there is only Balin left as a somewhat interesting individual. The rest just doesn't stand out and is boring to boot. This is one of the prime reasons why these films ( and this one especially ) do not nearly gather the empathy like the LoTR films did. It's really hard to care for all their antics and they're not well drawn characters. You'd think all the extra time would at least make them stand out more than in the book.
3) Radagast/The Woodland Realm/Barrell escape.
Radagast has 4 lines in this film at most. Jackson has abused this character into his Jar-Jar. Like Jar-Jar, there is suddenly a much reduced role for Radagast in the film two, after criticism of the characters's portrayal in film one. Radagast is now completely marginalized and I was disappointed with Jacko's take on him.
The Wood Elves, well, Woodland Realm looks great as we knew from the trailers and pics it would. Sadly Tauriel is a major irritant. Legolas is ok, much like in the LoTR. His character is a bit different but it's hard to be engaged by him. Thranduil is great as expected. The invented part of him having a massive scar is nonsense again, but other than that he was an interesting figure who should have had more time in this film ( if they were going to spend so much time in Lake-Town, and spend so much time on Kili and Tauriel, they could have given Thranduil, Beorn or Radagast more to do as well, or instead).
The much praised barrel riding scene as they exit Mirkwood with Orcs and Elves is somewhat overhyped to my mind. The CGI is rampant and blatant, the trickery and acrobatics break all sense of logic or the ability to keep believing in the reality of this film. If you're nitpicking, you can start to talk about why Bilbo is suddenly able to ride a river just by holding on to a barrel ( impossible if you see how wild it is with rapids and falls) , or why Bombur breaks his barrel completely, only to be in another barrel a few minutes later. I'm not even talking about that.
4) No quiet moments. Nothing really. This film even lacks the first film's nice moments in Hobbiton and Rivendell which made them atmospheric. There are no quiet moments in this one. There's a very long, surprisingly boring segment in Lake-Town in which truly nothing of consequence or increased interest happens. Other than that, as I said, no time spent at Beorn's, pretty much no time spent in the Woodland Palace except for a long snore talk between Kili and Tauriel regarding starlight . I'll certainly grant that the introduction in AUJ may have gone on a bit long, but at least that was coupled to a sense of atmosphere and that the world they're in feels real. Here, there's never a chance to take a breath and look around.
5) Tauriel and Kili. Tauriel was quite irritating as a character but it was the badly written romance with Kili that takes up a remarkable amount of screentime here, and I had not expected that. Overall these two characters left a bad taste in my mouth and contributed to the feeling that this second film is so much fluff.
6) No idea why this had to be 3 films. It just never comes through. There is an invented set piece at the end between Dwarves and Smaug which is silly beyond belief, and the execution seems to point to pea sized brains for either the dwarves or the 3 screenwriters who wrote it. Takes up more than half an hour of film, never happened in the book, but regardless of that, it turns out to be completely ineffectual, as you would expect. Why would a band of 6 dwarves be able to evict Smaug when Gandalf suggests it would take the armies of all 7 Dwarf Families. Speaking of which..
7) The prologue. Least impressive prologue yet? Certainly.
Furthermore, White Council vs Dol Guldur. No White Council in this film. Gandalf sends Radagast away as his only companion. Gandalf gets captured. All the good stuff saved for film 3 we now hear, with Saruman, Galadriel and Elrond all absent here and to have their scenes in film 3. The Nine Nazgul are referred to and set up as an enemy, but they never appear in this film either.
So after all that disillusionment, anything I still liked?
1) Gandalf vs Sauron at Dol Guldur. Regardless of what has been postponed, this was nicely done and a great scene. It allows for the unnecessary cliffhanger of having Gandalf in captivity but does so in a way that does not diminish him.
2) I liked Beorn-as-Bear standing guard outside of his house while the rest slept. The orcs were too terrified to come near and this foreshadows Beorn's decisive role in The Battle of Five Armies.
3) The dialogue between Smaug and Bilbo is beautiful and these are strong scenes. It's only when the invented part of the confrontation between Thorin and his band aganst Smaug starts to drag on, that Smaug becomes less interesting and less terrifying. But the initial part of that scene, starring Bilbo and Smaug, is quite wonderful.
4) Agreed with the rest of the world that Smaug has been nicely designed. He looks great. I wonder if they'll do a bit more with him in film 3 than just having him killed, but probably not. The film very much seems to lead to Bard being released from jail whilst Smaug attacks, and then Smaug will perish. Still, I hope we see him wreak major havoc.
In the end, lots of wild stuff that looks and feels tremendously cheap, very little content or beautiful quieter moments that stirs the mind, and a great deal of antics, much of it invented, that fails to engage. It comes to its 2: 40 hours running time largely by inventing new sequences that don't work at all, and postpones most of the interesting and climactic stuff to film 3. Worst Middle Earth film so far, and that's a big shame, I'd been looking forward to this one.
Edited by Calibandar, 12 December 2013 - 05:11 PM.