The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Peter Jackson's winning formula of eye-popping visuals and affecting characters is on full display in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but more is not necessarily better. Though episode 2 of his latest trilogy includes some marvelously uncanny set pieces of derring-do (the dwarves' barrel escape alone is a stunning bit of film-making) and a winged menace voiced by uber-villain Benedict Cumberbatch (the dragon Smaug of the title), it still pales in comparison to his masterwork, The Lord of the Rings. Unlike the earlier triology, which also starred Ian McKellan as the wizard Gandalf, this picture, which is brimming with Jacksonian splendor, feels attenuated, relying more and more on spectacle and less and less on narrative and dramatic tension. Even so, it is so much fun and is highly recommended.

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