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Well, what I already said about "An unexpected journey" pretty much also applies to "Desolation of Smaug": If you like Peter Jackson's previous Tolkien-trilogy, you are bound to also have all your dragon-related expectations fulfilled. On a purely subjective level I enjoyed "Smaug" more than "Journey". That might be because this time round the film pretty much lunges into action from the ouset instead of needing 45 minutes to set up everything (we already know from "LotR").
And from then on, it's running, running, fighting, shooting, ominous signs of things to come, brief rest, terror, horror, fighting, stabbing, Ork-related plotting and so on and so forth.
As with the previous instalment, "Smaug" has been generously padded to connect with the other trilogy and while I still don't think that it's necessary, this time round I felt these sequences were better integrated, more interesting and considerably less grating.
Mind you, I can only guess what a person who has seen none of the other films would make of this but then nobody would ever mistake this for a standalone film anyway.
Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch's performances essentially carry that film acting-wise and the rest is done by Weta and production design. Of the 13 dwarves, only three stick out from the crowd in any way: Thorin by being the leader and having something notable invested in this quest, Balin by being a source of wise and dramatic lines and Kili for reasons I will go into in a second.

This time I managed to catch a 48fps-HFR-screening and it really does make a difference in terms of picture-quality. I could have done without the 3D but the HFR was nice. Of course one effect of this new technology is that scenes that were obviously shot on a soundstage appear more artificial than they would have during normal projection but seeing that "Smaug", much like "Journey", looks incredibly artificial most of the time anyway, it doesn't matter that much. Unless of course, a 2h+ film looking like a videogame cutscene bothers you. (Incidentally, there is a sequence involving molten metal late in the film that looks worse than what was on display during "Terminator 2". The mind boggles at what might have gone wrong there.) All the other CGI is up to scratch and Smaug himself is a creation worthy to name this installment.

As said before, there are a few sequences hinting at a "larger evil rising" throughout the film and this time round they are less "nudge nudge wink wink" and more integrated into the plot. One addition I could have really done without was Legolas and Tauriel. A friend let me play "Batman: Arkham City" on his computer recently and in it Batman mainly fights with combo-attacks that look spectacular but are accomplished with very few and very simple button-pushes by the player. That is essentially what Tauriel and Legolas are doing here: They are kicking a spectacular amount of Ork-arse, it does look great but quite frankly, if you let any of the other protagonists on screen kick their share of arse, the film would not be poorer for it.
Legolas is only there for the fanboys and -girls anyway and Tauriel mainly so the film gets at least one Bechdel point (There is another named female character who even does/says something significant but it is very brief and to a male character).

Worse than that:

There is a sequence where Tauriel essentially falls in love with Kili. Which plotwise gives her the motivation to.... well, follow Kili at some point, which means, she.... is where Kili is later on. There is also a hint of a love-triangle involving Legolas we might see more of in the Extended Cut but which adds bugger all to the film now. Unfortunately, the first longer conversation between Kili and Tauriel is also the one sequence where I felt the film grind to a total halt and where I was suddenly no longer immersed in it, instead waiting for that goddamn scen to finally end. But then, I am not a love of crowbarred-in love interests.
Gender equality in films: Not the way to achieve it.

So in summary: The Hobbit marches on, it is the film we were waiting for and I will be there and back again at the cinema come next season, but with the usual privisos.
And I doubt I will partake in a "LotR/Hobbit"-Extended-Cut-6-film-marathon any time soon.


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