The Desolation of Smaug entertains, but the runtime continues to be too long.
The story opens with the dwarves, Bilbo (Martin Freeman), and Gandalf (Ian McKellan), close to their final destination of Mount Erebor. Their goal, for anyone who missed the first part, is to retake the treasure laden dwarf kingdom from the evil dragon Smaug (Benedict C*mberbatch). Complications arise and Gandalf is forced to leave the group to confront a new threat. An evil force, known initially as The Necromancer, gains strength and is gathering an army of ruthless orcs. Leaving Bilbo and the dwarves to cross the Mirkwood Forest controlled by elves. There they run into a familiar face from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the elf bad-ass, Legolas (Orlando Bloom); who is the son of the Elf King. The group escapes the elf stronghold, but not without leaving an impression. Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), the captain of the elf guard, becomes smitten with the pretty-boy dwarf, Kili (Aiden Turner). The group makes it to Lake Town, where they encounter Bard (Luke Evans), a wary bargeman who fears they will unleash hell when they finally face the dragon.
The Desolation of Smaug has some of the best and most unique action scenes we've seen in these films. There are quite a few different environments the protagonists battle through. The climax inside Mount Erebor when they fight Smaug is worth the price of admission by itself. I saw the film in the Dolby Atmos 3D. It looked and sounded incredible. It's also available in the HFR (high frame rate) format, but honestly, the last film put a lot of stress on my eyes. You cannot go wrong with the Atmos 3D. Those theaters maybe hard to find, but if little things like hearing Smaug's breath behind you, or the swoosh of his wings above your head peak your interest; then its worth the effort.
At this stage of the game, audiences are pretty familiar with the characters. Seeing Legolas dispatch orcs with deft aplomb should bring a smile to the diehard fans. Evangeline Lilly and Aiden Turner are effective in their cross species romance. I chuckled a bit through those scenes, but it did catch me by surprise. I wish a little more time had been spent on the romance and a little less trudging around in the woods, but once again, this useless filler seems to be something we have to put up with in these movies. I sincerely hope one day Jackson realizes the folly of this and gives us a slimmer edit. Less is more here, a lot more.
The Desolation of Smaug will be an audience pleaser. It's pretty much a guaranteed blockbuster regardless of any criticism. I guess the best praise is to say it doesn't take any steps back. It looks and sounds great with a high entertainment value. I did have to race to the bathroom during the climax, but I foolishly drank a large Cherry Coke in the first five minutes like an idiot. Don't make that mistake as you're in for the long haul here. People who aren't into medieval fantasy or CGI battles with fire breathing dragons should avoid this like the plague.