The movie's biggest unintentional laugh, other that the brief elf-dwarf-elf love triangle, comes after Legolas has snuck up on Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a warrior she-elf who has as much to do with Tolkien as Tim Burton's patriarch-overthrowing Alice does with Lewis Carroll: "If I had been an orc, you'd be dead by now," he says. That's not true: Had he been an orc, she'd still have fired an arrow straight through his CGI face and into the forehead of the orc behind him.

It's up to you whether it's forgivable that Jackson's Middle Earthers are forever sneaking up on their own companions for dramatic effect, or that they speak with pauses so pregnant you can't believe no water has broken. Asked if the calamitous rumbling in the mountain beneath the dwarf posse might be an earthquake, Santa-bearded Balin replies as though he's the host of a Lonely Mountain reality show just about to throw to commercial: "That, my lad"—breath, breath, switch to camera two—"is a dragon."

Critics' Pick Critics' Pick


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was directed by Peter Jackson; written by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien; and stars Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans and Stephen Fry. Rated PG-13.

A complaint you'll likely hear about The Desolation of Smaug is that it's all "middle." That is, as the bridging film in a trilogy, it must suffer from shapelessness and a lack of resolution. If this were a true adaptation of a well-structured novel, that argument might make some sense. But this isn't. This is pure serial, just complications and cliff-hangers, nothing but what kids might think of as the good parts. In its form, it resembles nothing more than a string of Dungeons & Dragons game nights: dangers gaped at and triumphed over, usually via slaughter, with another danger waiting at the next session and the heroes growing into even better versions of themselves; think Horatio Alger as filtered through Gary Gygax. And remember that, with such material, a lack of resolution is actually the ideal. Once the heroes have nothing left to kill, how do we know they're heroes? And we should dream instead of this life?

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