"rest easy sceptics because the immensely talentd New Zealander has gone and done it again"
When the announcement was made that Peter Jackson was going to turn The Hobbit, a relatively short book into a film of two parts it was met with raised eyebrows. Then it emerged he would add another film to make it a trilogy which was met with even more scepticism. Well rest easy sceptics because the immensely talentd New Zealander has gone and done it again.
We are reintroduced to Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellen) in a tavern a year before the events that were set in motion in the previous instalment, where they discuss the quest they will embark on. We then cut to the present day, and the story picks up where An Unexpected Journey left off, with The Company of Dwarves, a hobbit and a wizard being hunted by orcs, as they seek refuge in the home of a 'skin changer' - a being who can change his form - appearing as a ferocious bear when they first encounter him.
Gandalf inexplicably leaves them and the band of heroes venture into the woods with the warning of 'follow the path, lose it, and never get out'. Whilst they wander around, trying to pass through the woods, they get disorientated and are attacked by giant spiders, vicious and, unfortunately for our protagonists, rather hungry. Fortunately Bilbo (Martin Freeman) with the help of the mysterious ring he 'found' saves his comrades, though it's the introduction of the Elves - led by Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) - who truly enter in to our story to save the day. They are then taken prisoner by the elves and locked up, again after some heroics from Bilbo, the dwarves are freed. However with the orcs still on their tail, a spectacular escape via the lake in barrels transpires, and by this point, we're barely halfway in to the movie.
The chemistry between Bloom and Lilly is amazing, as they really bounce off each other really well, with a palpable, unspoken bond between them. The rest of the cast are no slouches either, truly embodying their characters. It would have been enjoyable to see Andy Serkis' brilliant Gollum, but sadly he isn't a part of this particular tale. However the one character that does get introduced properly this time around, is the titular role of Smaug the dragon, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. With an entire third act centred predominantly on the majestic beast, in a similar vein to watching a lion in a nature show, it may be stunning, but at any moment it could rip you limb from limb, and that's the sense you get when Freeman's Bilbo comes face to face with him.
The 3D is utilised extremely well, with the fire effects and scale of the film putting the viewer right at the heart of Middle Earth. Devoid of needless gimmicks too, this visual experience makes for an exceptional film. That being said, it is the story that will always take centre stage, and throughout the course of the film we are treated with back stories that give a complete picture and imperative context. For example how Bard (Luke Evans) is haunted by the actions of his ancestors in the last Smaug attack, while there's also a nod to The Lord of the Rings trilogy with an exchange between Legolas and Gloin, referring to Gimli.
Whilst there is a true sense of peril in the film, it's not all doom and gloom with a decent helping of comedic moments and dialog spread across the film, despite not being quite as farcical as the first offering. Peter Jackson has once again turned out a great film based on the adventures of Middle Earth, and if this and the previous film are anything to go by, then there is no way that the third film - There and Back Again will fail. The film is truly spectacular and was certainly worth the twelve month wait, just like now - we have to wait a further twelve months for the conclusion. It couldn't come sooner.