The film picks up with Bilbo, Thorin and their band of Dwarves on the run from Azog’s orcs. They find themselves appearing to be hunted by a very large bear. Gandalf promises they are near the home of a man who might help them with safety. They rush, chased by the bear until they reach a remote home.
Once inside, Gandalf explains that the bear is actually the man they are trying to reach. Beorn is a shapeshifter who is also mistrustful of dwarves, so Gandalf cooks up a plan to slowly reveal them to Beorn.
Once on their way, they find themselves facing giant spiders and elves, eventually reaching Laketown, near the mountain fortress they seek. Initially, Laketown presents an obstacle, but Thorin promises to share the riches of the mountain if they allow them passage and provide some weapons. Of course, most of the citizens being poor and desperate, it is not a hard sell. And the mayor is a greedy man who figures if they succeed he reaps the reward and if they get eaten by Smaug they are out of his hair.
Meanwhile, Gandalf has gone to find and confront the Necromancer, a dark being that is an impending threat to Middle Earth.
Once they reach the mountain and find the secret entrance, it falls to Bilbo to slip inside and see if he can locate the Arkenstone. This turns out to be like looking for a needle in a haystack, as there are jewels and gold coins everywhere. Bilbo must outwit Smaug, who is wakened by the presence of Bilbo.
The Desolation of Smaug is the first of the three films to start really padding on story. And this drags the film as a whole down. There are some great sequences, and the Smaug sequence itself is pretty nicely done. But the film also adds in completely unnecessary subplots like a love triangle. The film includes Legolas, whose father is the Elvenking Thranduil, as a link to the Lord of the Rings films. Legolas did not appear in the book, though as he is the son of Thranduil, it is not an unreasonable addition.
The filmmakers felt it would be good to add a female cast member in some of the action scenes. They created Tauriel, a young and skilled elven warrior. Portrayed by Evangeline Lilly, she is a tough adventurer. Even as additions go, the character herself is not a problem. I like Tauriel. However, Lilly agreed to take the role as long as her character was not in a love triangle. She was assured this was not going to be the case. So the film has her being sought by both Legolas and the dwarf Kili. It feels like they really wanted the Kili and Tauriel aspect be a callback to Aragorn and Arwen. And while they introduce it as a love triangle, it is entirely pointless. It is not a source of real conflict. Legolas could have gone to her side simply as a friend, not out of romantic desire. It is clear the film wants to focus on her and Kili. And that is perfectly fine, and would have improved the sub-plot had they dumped the “triangle” part.
Honestly, the inclusion of the Necromancer stuff (none of which comes from the Hobbit, it is referenced in the Lord of the Rings appendices) is more to make the audience get those “Lord of the Rings” vibes. It does not enhance the story or threat…and it feels wholly unconnected to the main story.
Smaug looks great, and Cumberbacht’s voice performance is good stuff. The visuals are great. I still enjoy the performances, I actually like a lot of the charcters…and yet?
Story suffers from bloat. When it drags along? It reaaaaally drags.