The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug ★★★
Peter Jackson’s scaly mid-section of his second Tolkien trilogy is as finely tuned, visually resplendent and eager to entertain as we’ve come to expect, although he and his co-writers have had to pad the action to tease it out to Lord of the Rings length. Martin Freeman’s lovable Bilbo Baggins carries the story with the assistance of Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his fellow dwarves, while Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Bard the Bowman (a dashing Luke Evans) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) chip in. A series of amazing escapes – one involving wine barrels and some rapids – lead to Lonely Mountain, where the giant dragon Smaug (voiced with booming relish by Benedict Cumberbatch) guards the Arkenstone. If any of that leaves you cold, you’re watching the wrong film franchise, but for others, it sets up the action beautifully for final episode The Battle of the Five Armies.
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