Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen. Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro from the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. Directed by Peter Jackson. STC. 161 min. Opens Dec. 13.
It’s not easy for the middle film of a trilogy to thoroughly satisfy moviegoers. After all, few in-betweeners boast a whammy on par with “[Luke,] I am your father” in The Empire Strikes Back (still the greatest of all second instalments). Nevertheless, the latest leg of Peter Jackson’s epic-length telling of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit has just enough novelty and momentum to keep viewers marching along with Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins and all those shaggy dwarves until next year’s finale.
The introduction of a few new faces also helps compensate for the relatively scant screen time for Gandalf (Ian McKellen), who must depart the main company for a dangerous solo venture. Lost’s Evangeline Lilly is convincingly spry as Tauriel, an Elven warrior who qualifies as the first action heroine in a series that’s been a sausage fest for too long. Meanwhile, Luke Evans gives good brooding as Bard, the ferryman who becomes a reluctant protector of Bilbo’s party during a pit stop before their last push for Lonely Mountain. And the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch supplies plenty of menace and no small amount of wit as the voice of Smaug, the dragon nemesis of Bilbo and the would-be dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage).
Jackson’s other efforts to augment his template generally serve the film well—for instance, the controversial high-resolution format that made its predecessor such an eyesore results in a more appealing image this time round. The director also relishes his chances for woozy psychedelic excess whenever Bilbo slips on that ring he filched from Gollum. Other passages can’t help but seem stodgy and overly familiar, given that viewers have now spent so long in Middle Earth, they should start paying rent. Indeed, if you tally up all the extended versions of Jackson’s Tolkien flicks, the series has lasted nearly 18 bloody hours. No wonder everyone looks like they could use a hot shave and a good night’s sleep.