* By "spoiler-free" I mean about the film adaptation of the story, I assume anyone reading this blog knows the basic events of "The Hobbit" in general. If not, do not read further unless you want spoilers.
Extremely short recap/overview: When we left off at the end of the first film, Bilbo et al had escaped the orcs and wargs with help from the eagles. A good stopping point in the narrative, I thought. We pick up from there and move on to some of the more well-known (and a few of the lesser) scenes from the book. We have Mirkwood and Laketown and reach the Mountain.
Among these sections are some truly impressive scenes. I loved the spiders. The effects/CGI was wonderfully done. It didn't follow the book 100%, but when does a movie ever?
Cooler than this.
Of course, because this is Mirkwood, the elves show up. And who is their prince?
I'm still the prettiest!!
Yes, in case you live under a rock, Orlando reprises his role as Legolas Greenleaf, son of King Thrainduil. Mr. Bloom is a few years older now, but he was ridiculously young when he did LOTR, so it hardly shows. He carries a bit more gravitas as an actor now, which makes it a little anachronistic that his character is over half a century older in the "later" films. But that's always the issue with prequels. Bloom does a fine job, and I liked how his character was written for this. The sylvan (wood) elves are insular, nearly xenophobic, and a tad bloodthirsty. Good stuff.
The dwarves are then imprisoned, which brings me to the next bit about the movie: The caves of Thrainduil are gorgeous. I loved how they managed to capture the subterranean and arboreal feel. It redefines how elves would live in a cave to me. If ever a Simarillion movie were made, they need to take a page from this film for Nargothrond (look it up).
Thrainduil has a chat with some folks. I must say I am on the fence about how this character is being portrayed. He supposed to be a little edgy, I guess, but occasionally his portrayal seemed ...erratic. His essentially telling Tauriel that she's elf trailer trash compared to Pretty Prince Legolas and should keep her she-hooks off him seemed, well, bitchy. Ah well, perhaps it will fit with future appearance in the third film.
Of course, thanks to Bilbo, the dwarves don't stay prisoners. The film moves right along to them getting freed and stuffed into barrels for a log flume ride.
Keep your hands and beards inside the ride at all times.
Now, a brief aside here as I talk about some of the non-Thorin & Co. events in the film. As most people following these movies know, part of how Wingnut Films expects to give us 8 or so hours of screen time is by expanding certain events that are not detailed in the books, but only briefly mentioned or alluded to in the text and –in some cases– only in the LOTR appendices. Namely, Gandalf, the White Council, and Dol Guldur.
I have heard complaints about how these things weren't really in the story and are just padding, but I respectfully submit that they are fine additions to the film. They both foreshadow the events of the LOTR movies, and –as mentioned in the review of the first film (linked above)– justify certain things that seem a bit silly in the main story, i.e. Why on earth would Gandalf send such a bunch of silly buggers to antagonize a dragon? Answer? He's doing what Gandalf always does, juggle several balls at once. We get to see a little more of Radagast and Dol Guldur, so that's fun. More about this below.
Back to the main plot, the group manages to get into Laketown and resupply enough to head to the mountain. There are several changes in the plot here, some larger than others, but spoilers abound here, so it will have to wait a couple more paragraphs. Bottom line: The reach the Mountain and find the door, which is more than implied by the trailer. As is also the fact that Bilbo goes into the Mountain and sees Smaug in all his terrible glory.
This is my favorite picture of Smaug ever. Done by the Professor himself!
There's a bit more action at the mountain, and in Laketown, then we leave off just prior to Smaug attacking the town.
Without big spoilers, Smaug is beautifully executed. His appearance, animation, and of course Mr. Cumberbatch's voicing all work wonderfully. Nerd Note: I was pleased to see a "wyvern-style" four limbed version as opposed to a brontosaurus with wings.
A note on the 3D: Not worth it, IMO. It was distracting and made a lot of the scenes look weird in how they were shot. I would have preferred a "vanilla" viewing.
Okay! Let's talk a little about specifics and what I liked, and what I didn't.
Beorn: I loved that he was in the movie. I was worried he'd be cut for time. He wasn't there long, and the way the dwarves (and Bilbo) meet him is a little rushed, but I was happy he was included.
Mirkwood: Nicely done overall. Again, a bit of change from the books, mostly for pacing and time. The "oddness" of the woods and the way it played tricks on their minds was a nice way to handle things, but I was sorta looking forward to the stream of forgetful slumber. Including the butterflies and using that as a segue into the spiders worked well, too.
The spiders deserve their own special mention. I really like them. One of my favorite parts is when Bilbo puts on the Ring and discovers he can understand them. A nice touch! The spiders were big without being Shelob. They were scary and fast and nasty, too. The bit with Bilbo "fighting over the Ring" with the shelled spider was an interesting foreshadowing, but I would have preferred to see him doing the "Attercop" taunts with the Ring on and luring them off from the dwarves. I suppose having Thorin & Co. take a more active part in the fight was consistent with how the movies seem to be handling those characters.
As an aside: I was pleased to see some of the "other" dwarves getting a few more lines and scenes.
Legolas and Tauriel were fun to watch in the fight scenes, and Evangeline Lilly is nice to watch regardless. I already mentioned I thought the tone struck with the elves' attitude was a good one.
Mmm! Ginger She-elf!
The introduction of Tauriel presents certain difficulties however. She has a large role in the film for a non-canon character, so that creates a certain amount of "ripples" in the plot. The most egregious of which is COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY!! Namely, the romantic triangle between her, Legolas, and A DWARF!
I'm sorry, but I find it ridiculous that this centuries-old elf is even remotely flattered or interested in Kili. It's so obviously shoehorned into the plot, and wrenches thing off in weird directions. I admit I am prejudiced against Aidan Turner's Kili. Not because of the casting, but for the minor but annoying reason that HE HAS NO KIND OF PROPER FACIAL HAIR AT ALL!! Silly, I know. But there it is.
Sorry, stubble-boy. Legolas is still prettier.
This was one of my major peeves with the film on a variety of levels. It uses a non-canon character to set up an unnecessary and ultimately futile sub-plot: Legolas doesn't end up with Tauriel, as later events show us. Kili doesn't either (I sincerely hope) because he DIES in the Battle of Five Armies. So Tauriel is there (partially) to add a romantic element to the story that didn't exist before and can't have any real resoultion other than –PREDICTION AHEAD– She somehow manages to die in the BoFA trying to save Kili or Legolas or both, or having to make some tragic choice between them, or Kili and her dying tragically together.
Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike having another elf character besides Legolas or his Pop, and I don't mind it being female, but I do mind making one up whole cloth for such a lame reason as to try and satisfy the ticket buyers who want to see some romance.
"THERE AND BACK AGAIN" IS NOT A ROMANCE! IT IS AN ADVENTURE/FAIRY TALE!
phew! OK. Moving on now.
After the dwarves & Bilbo escape and -aheh- barrel down the river, they are pursued by orcs and the elves: namely Legolas and Tauriel. Kili is wounded by a poisoned orc arrow and the company gets away. Meeting Bard the Bowman/Smuggler/Political Rabble Rouser.
You know what? Never mind Bard. It was a big change, but I get where PJ was going with it, it doesn't get in the way of advancing the main plot, and it sets up tension in Laketown so there's more story to see and do there. Fine.
When the dwarves are ready to leave town, they commit the biggest sin that any group of adventurers can.
The split the party.
The wounded Kili gets left behind and a couple other stay as well to watch over him. Why, you ask? why would PJ make such a drastic change to the story? Well the answer is quite simple:
TO MAKE ANOTHER DRASTIC, YET UNNECESSARY, CHANGE TO THE PLOT!
Orcs sneak into Laketown on Thorin's trail. But Legolas and Tauriel are following them. Action scenes ensue. Then Tauriel saves Kili from the poison with some Kingsfoil. (Which, I might point out, Bofur had gone to the trouble of finding in the first place!) Kili confesses his love for Tauriel in a fevered state and she acts all flattered and flustered and NOT AT ALL LIKE A 600 YEAR OLD ELF WARRIOR!
(I swear, I'll try to rein that in from now on)
Meanwhile, back at the mountain, more plot changes are underway. Condensing Bilbo's "visits" to Smaug was understandable. The plot twist of the Arkenstone being the real MacGuffin made a certain measure of sense as well, I guess. I really liked the detail that went into the hoard and the animating of things like coin spills, etc. I've already mentioned how much I liked Smaug.
What didn't I like at Lonely Mountain? Two things:
1) Bilbo takes off the Ring while talking to Smaug! WHAT?! The riddling talk and Smaug's playing for time while trying to find out what's afoot were part of the real fun of that scene in the book, IMO. Again, an effort to up the tension and action (Bilbo sliding around the coins stalling Smaug as he tries to grab the jewel, etc.). Also, if Smaug were aware of the Arkenstone, which he said he was, he wouldn't have left it in a pile, and he would certainly see the glowing gem skittering along with Bilbo behind. That fact seemed a bit glossed over to me.
2) The dwarves come to help Bilbo and fight with Smaug! Again, WHAT?!
Look, Pete. I know you need some action in these films every so often, but this is HUGE. This is a radical departure from how the dwarves are presented in the book and also fairly flimsy writing. Smaug the Golden, represents an unbeatable force. Guile, trickery, and cleverness defeat him in the book, not charging around under the mountain trying to trick him. I found the entire chase and trap thing very disappointing, because it changes the story in ways it wasn't meant to go, and not in good ways or for good reasons.
Ok, leaving the dwarves and elves for now, let's talk briefly (this is getting long) about Gandalf et al.
His leaving the dwarves and riding off was handled very well, IMO. I liked it. It made sense, and it added some nice tension in a subtle way. I may be in the minority, but I am liking the White Council stuff. The tombs in Angmar were hella cool, with the bars bent back where the Nazgul had broken free of their crypts.
The confrontation with the Necromancer in Dol Guldur was a nice wizardy battle. Honestly though, the gamer in me thinks A) Gandalf should have waited for Galadriel et al to arrive or, at least, B) Keep Radagast with him. What? Bird Poop-Head can't send an unladen swallow to deliver the message to Lorien? Dwarves can talk to birds in this story and Galadriel can't?? Of course, Gandalf's capture sets up the next phase of the battle at the ruins.
OK, this post has gone on long enough. Let me sum up by saying I enjoyed the movie overall. There were individual parts that I really liked, and as I think about the changes that irk me, I am reminded of another film that was second in a trilogy which provoked a similar response in me: