Evangeline Lilly kicks butt, Richard Armitage twirls his mustache, and fans get the vapors

It seems I’m at odds with many of my fellow Tolkien fans: I liked The Desolation of Smaug. I didn’t love it the way I loved the first one, but I haven’t got any complaints either. Does this mean we’re in a fight?

Look, there’s something us readers of books are going to have to learn to accept once and for all: movies based on books will deviate from their source material. Seriously, it’s like every time this happens we’re surprised and outraged anew. Movies are not books. If we can’t accept someone else messing with a beloved story in a different medium, then maybe we shouldn’t, yanno, see the movie. In the case of these movies, at least a lot of what wasn’t in The Hobbit was drawn from (or inspired by, if you prefer) the appendices of The Lord of the Rings and Unfinished Tales.

And yes, Peter Jackson is always going to have a strong kickass she-warrior. If Eowyn isn’t available, he’s going to make one up. That’s because it’s his job to sell movies. Evangeline Lilly performed the task capably, and as for Kili’s crush on Tauriel, okay yeah, kind of cheesy. But I don’t get all the outrage. It’s not like it’s unprecedented in Tolkien’s universe for a dwarf to have a thing for a beautiful elf.

Like any other fan, I have some quibbles. (What’s with the ringwraiths, both here and in An Unexpected Journey, having tombs? This is driving me nuts.) But they’re minor in the scheme of things. If I have a source of anything that can be properly called disappointment, it’s that there was less acting in this movie. One of the strengths I found in An Unexpected Journey versus Jackson’s previous Tolkien films was that I felt the cast was stronger. Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage in particular were both nearly flawless in their roles.

In this installment, as their arcs are written by Walsh, Boyens, and Jackson, both Bilbo and Thorin are in the midst of important internal struggles (both involving, in what I assume is an intentional parallel, their strength and sanity being tested by a mysterious object). But while we get glimpses of that inner turmoil, the movie always falls back on their more physical adventures, one after another unbroken by those quiet moments of character development that some moviegoers are bored by but others, like me, miss when they’re not there. It becomes a little heavy-handed when the only way you can show me what’s happening to Thorin is by putting an over-the-top moment of swordy-pointy menace (I’m frankly surprised Richard Armitage was able to resist twirling his mustache in that scene – perhaps he couldn’t separate it from his beard) right next to an over-the-top heroic action sequence, just to make sure the contrast is announced as loudly as possible.

The performances were good, but they weren’t given a lot of space to happen. This was, in the end, a special effects movie. So at least the special effects were good, no? Come on. Love the movie or hate it, that dragon was kickass.

1 word on the street

  1. I must say, again, that the sight of Smaug gliding towards Esgaroth — “I am fire! I am death!” — was the single best moment in that film.

    I also like that the Master wasn’t entirely unsympathetic, and that Bard’s soliloquy against the Dwarves’ quest may have been an intentional setup to sway the decision, but I can’t be sure.

    It was interesting to observe in Tolkien’s racially segregated world black people in the crowds at Laketown. But it’s a city of trade, so no wonder, and besides, this film was made in the 2010’s.

    But why did Gandalf choose those ridiculously remote tombs as a meeting place with Radagast? I never caught the necessity.

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