Yet another solid addition to Peter Jackson's Middle Earth saga, Desolation of Smaug manages to clear up some of the deficiencies of its predecessor but still doesn't quite reach the highest levels of the series.
With all the exposition done with in Unexpected Journey, Desolation drives along at a steady pace, moving characters from location to location with speed and branching off to a subplot when the scene needs to be returned to. All in all, it's far more exciting than Unexpected Journey.
Desolation of Smaug explores the latter part of the dwarves' journey, from Beorn's home to the Lonely Mountain. This last stretch of the trip covers a vast number of locales, such as Mirkwood, the Elven kingdom therein, Lake-Town, and the vaults of Erebor. In addition, Gandalf's exploration of Dol Goldur adds another mysterious environment, one that works to connect this movie and the original trilogy. In this wide variety of locations, several new characters are introduced. Tauriel and Thranduil, from the Elven kingdom, are the most intriguing additions. They each seem to have a rich story and bring a certain gravitas with themselves in each scene. Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman adds a more serious but important tone to the second half of the film. Orlando Bloom makes a welcome return as Legolas, giving us some of the most memorable fight sequences of the decade.
Lastly, we have Smaug. The dragon everyone has been waiting for. And the wait was worth it. Rendered on an enormous scale, Smaug is probably the largest dragon film has ever seen to this point. His voice, provided by Benedict Cumberbatch, rumbles through the theater, adding to his vastness and dominance. In contrast to the orcs, led by Azog, who gets some interesting developments in Desolation, Smaug is inevitable, something the Company must confront rather than flee from. As such, many passions get aroused, leading Thorin, and consequently, Bilbo, down new, unexpected paths, drawing things up to the epic conclusion of the trilogy, due out next year.
But for now, Desolation of Smaug is all we have. And it is quite enough.