Bilbo in The Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugAs some of you may have noticed – something rather unexpected happened today.
While reviews for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug were expected to
begin getting published this coming Sunday – the embargo was lifted early and we began getting reviews today! TORN staffers, who have been lucky enough to see the film already, will be reviewing the film soon enough. First up will be our own Quickbeam, who is currently finalizing his thoughts. In the meantime, however, we thought we’d post a couple of the early reviews for your reading pleasure.

The first review to pop up today was from The Hollywood Reporter. Todd McCarthy had many positive things to say about the film – praising its “sense
of storytelling that possesses palpable energy and purpose.”
He had a couple
of quibbles – among them a lack of tension in the fate of the main characters, who he says “consistently escape unharmed while the humongous and ferocious orcs go down as easily as shooting gallery ducks.” But, overall, he seemed impressed with the film.

Beginning with the blessing of not being stuck with a bunch of hungry and thirsty dwarves in Bilbo Baggins’ hut for a half-hour at the outset, nearly everything about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug represents an improvement over the first installment of Peter Jackson’s three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved creation. The “unexpected journey” launched in last Christmas’ box-office behemoth becomes the heart of the matter this time around, making for plenty of peril, warfare, theme-park-ride-style escapes and little-guy courage. For Jackson and Warner Bros., it’s another movie, another billion.

Next up was Variety, whose Justin Chang also remarks on the improved pace of the film – “the film immediately evinces a livelier pace and a heightened sense of urgency.” Chang takes issue with what he sees as a less engaging tale than The Hobbit series’ predecessor – “Good and evil are still very much at stake, sometimes grippingly so, but even the staunchest Tolkien loyalists may feel they’re on an overly protracted journey to an inevitably less exciting destination.” Still, on the whole, he praises the latest installment.

If “An Unexpected Journey” felt like nearly three hours’ worth of throat clearing and beard stroking, the saga gets fully under way at last in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” the similarly massive but far more purposeful second chapter in Peter Jackson’s latest Tolkien enterprise. Actually shorter than the first film by nine minutes, this robust, action-packed adventure benefits from a headier sense of forward momentum and a steady stream of 3D-enhanced thrills — culminating in a lengthy confrontation with a fire-breathing, scenery-chewing dragon — even as our heroes’ quest splits into three strands that are left dangling in classic middle-film fashion.

Empire also released their review today, and gave the film a very positive 5/5 rating. Nick de Semlyen isn’t shy about his adoration for the film, marking the improvements in the narrative over the film’s predecessor, as well as the fresh scenery – you can feel Jackson’s relief at having entirely new worlds in which to play.” He also praises the new additions to the cast, especially Benedict Cumberbatch.

…the standout new character is, predictably, the titular beast. He’s played Khan; now Benedict Cumberbatch draws on Shere Khan for his performance (vocal and mo-cap) as the blazing-eyed, honey-voiced, spike-helmed “serpent of the north”. We’ve seen many a dragon on screen before, but nothing with this much personality: Smaug is a startlingly well-executed creation, toggling between arrogance, indolence and rage as he uses his wyrm-tongue to try to draw out Bilbo. And once he does, the film kicks into full throttle for an immense, half-hour finale that threatens to bring down the mountain itself. It’s Jackson once more at the top of his game; God knows what he has in store for part three.

Stay tuned for Quickbeam’s review of the film, which will be coming up soon.