“Lonely Mountain troubles me.”
That’s what Gandalf the Grey says to the would-be king of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield, as the two chat at the Inn of the Prancing Pony. It’s a year before the dwarves launch their expedition to retake Erebor, and Gandalf fears something dark is stirring in the world. He’s beginning to wonder if the dragon Smaug—which originally drove the dwarves from their mountain fortress—could be a terrible ally to an even more grievous foe.
His counsel to Thorin: Vanquish the dragon. Reclaim the mountain.
We know, of course, that the melancholy-but-mighty dwarf has embraced Gandalf’s plan. In fact, his company’s perilous journey to rid Erebor of Smaug is already well underway as 13 dwarves, the wizard and the hobbit Bilbo Baggins meander treacherously toward Lonely Mountain’s solitary spire. They’ve already survived nearly getting eaten by trolls, being taken prisoner by goblins, and a wild and wooly pursuit by the vicious orc Azog in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
But that’s hardly the end of their peril.
With Azog’s warg-riding orcs hot on the group’s heels, Gandalf leads them to what he hopes will be sanctuary in the home of a man named Beorn—a man who happens to be a shape-shifting skinchanger whose other form is a massive, fierce bear … that immediately begins chasing them. Then the group plunges into spider-infested Mirkwood where they’re about to become arachnid hors d’oeuvres when they’re taken prisoner by Mirkwood’s fierce, wild wood elves.
So forget the dragon. Just killing spiders, evading orcs and escaping from the clutches of the brooding, isolationist-minded elven king Thranduil is challenge enough.
But a daring escape (thanks to intrepid “burglar” Bilbo Baggins) culminates with the dwarves riding wine barrels down the river out of Thranduil’s forest kingdom and toward Lake Town, a ramshackle former trading center where the people cling to a prophecy about dwarves arriving to restore their fortunes.
And so they arrive: 13 dwarves and a hobbit (minus their wizard guide, who’s set off on his own perilous side quest), a motley crew of haggard adventurers with bloodthirsty orcs behind them and a tall, lonely pinnacle in front of them …
… beneath which the dragon Smaug slumbers on his vast ocean of pilfered dwarven gold.
Heroism comes in many forms, and it’s the diminutive Bilbo who often rises to its grand occasion, rescuing the dwarves repeatedly. His efforts are mirrored by so many of those who surround him, from the dwarves themselves to Bard, a citizen of Lake Town who agrees (or, it might be said, is persuaded by way of silver) to smuggle the group into town. Bard also longs to stand up against the corruption of the small city’s leader, a brandy-sipping glutton.
For his part, Gandalf is always focused on the bigger picture—in this case, the shadowy rise of an old enemy who up to this point has simply been known as the Necromancer. With the assistance of the wizard Radagast, Gandalf leaves the group and heads toward the supposedly deserted ruins of the castle Dol Guldur—where he confronts the devilish entity who is indeed drawing evil forces to himself once more.
Wood elves Legolas and Tauriel have a spirited discussion about how they should respond to this encroaching evil. Tauriel absolutely refuses to be content with letting others fight their own battles by themselves. “It is our fight,” she says. “It will not end here. … Tell me, are we not a part of this world? … When did we let evil become stronger than us?” And so they push the orcs all the way back to Lake Town.
The film also suggests that Thorin Oakenshield’s pursuit of a precious gem known as the Arkenstone is fraught with peril. (And, indeed, the beautiful blue bauble has already allegedly driven his father and grandfather mad.) In that, we’re beginning to see the story’s cautionary tale about greed, one that parallels the similar influence of the ring upon those who possess it.
Radagast talks about the dark spells being cast by the Necromancer at Dol Guldur. He and Gandalf, both wizards in a world of magic and supernatural phenomena, investigate the violated tombs of nine kings whom the Necromancer has apparently reanimated. Gandalf casts spells to reveal hidden enemies in a castle. He battles a powerful enemy using his staff to project light and a protective bubble as he’s assailed by a black, fog-like foe. Beorn is said to be the last of the skinchangers, beings who morph back and forth between human and animal form.
A love triangle of sorts emerges as the movie progresses. We learn that Tauriel is in love with Legolas, a relationship that has been forbidden by his father, Thranduil. Meanwhile, Kili is clearly smitten by Tauriel, flirting with her in a double entendre-laden exchange after being captured. “Aren’t you going to search me?” he asks. “I could have anything down my trousers.” To which she retorts, “Or nothing.” Still, Tauriel does seem to have at least a half-crush on Kili, too. And when she heals him of a fever later, he ponders whether she could ever love him.
This second Hobbit movie bears an intense-sounding title, and its action fulfills the promise that brings … and then some. The action ramps up almost immediately with Beorn (in bear form) fiercely pursuing the dwarves into his house. Battles between Azog’s pursuing troops result in the deaths of dozens of orcs. They’re frequently decapitated (generally by elven blades) and shot with arrows. We see the arrows penetrate skulls, and one particularly potent shaft skewers two orcs at once. Sword and knife fights fell still more.
One particularly wince-inducing scene involves Thranduil swiftly and unexpectedly cutting off an orc’s head right after promising to spare the creature. One of the fights between orcs, dwarves and elves takes place in Bard’s home, where his two adolescent girls witness the hideous attackers being killed.
The company’s encounter with the giant spiders of Mirkwood has the multi-fanged creatures lunging and gnashing at their prey. We hear spiders talking about how “fat and juicy” their dwarven meals will be. But Bilbo dispatches several with his short sword, now dubbed Sting. And the dwarves each grab a leg of one spider and pull, yanking its limbs off.
We see the side of Thranduil’s face burn away and regenerate. After getting shot with an arrow, Kili has to break it off, leaving part of it in his body. (Later we see a bloody, infected wound.) Kili also tumbles down a flight of stairs. There’s talk of slavery, torture and the thirst for blood.
[Spoiler Warning] When finally facing the dragon (trying to kill it with molten gold), our heroes end up on the hot end of multiple bursts of flame. Gandalf’s battle against the Necromancer involves forcing back the enemy’s shadowy swathes of dark spiritual energy with a deflective bubble.
Thorin brags that he told Thranduil he could “go [unspellable dwarvish word] himself—him and all his kin.”
Several characters smoke pipes, and folks are shown drinking ale at the Prancing Pony. Thranduil’s wood elves make wine that they send down the river; a couple of them seem to have consumed too much of it, and they’re shown passed out with their heads on a table. The master of Lake Town asks for a brandy.
Thranduil says he’ll release Thorin and the other dwarves in exchange for Thorin retrieving three specific gems from Smaug’s horde should they succeed in felling the foul worm. But prideful Thorin rejects those terms because he’s still clinging to his bitterness over Thranduil and his elves not helping the dwarves during their greatest hour of need. Later, the eldest dwarf, Balin, accuses Thorin (rightly) of being so driven by greed that he refuses to come to Bilbo’s aid against Smaug.
Bilbo is on the cusp of confessing to Gandalf that he has a magical ring, but instead veers into deception: “I found something in the goblin tunnels,” he says. “What did you find?” Gandalf asks. “My courage,” says Bilbo, clearly not coming clean.
All of J.R.R. Tolkien’s outrageously poignant and inspiring stories provide us with vivid images of the fight between good and evil, and this one is no exception, of course. Here, high-minded heroism hops up on the podium to take first prize in the message contest. And, as mentioned, selfishness and greed get solid put-downs.
But there are two other things you also need to know about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. First, it is Peter Jackson’s most audacious departure yet from Tolkien’s original source material. Second, it is arguably the most violent of the five Tolkien movies he’s made thus far.
Having just read The Hobbit again, this time with my young son, I can with fresh perspective say that Jackson doesn’t just embellish a bit here, trim a bit there and shade things a bit around the edges—as he did throughout The Lord of the Rings films. No, he should have actually put an “Inspired by The Hobbit” disclaimer in the opening credits, as huge chunks of the narrative—including a completely gratuitous reference to a dwarf’s private parts—are either new additions or wildly divergent from Tolkien’s telling.
An instructive example: Once Bilbo packs the dwarves into the wine kegs in the book, they float rather quietly out of the wood elves’ keeping. Not so here. Not only are the elves aware of their escape, they seek to block their passage down river. But that’s hardly all: Orcs are everywhere, too, leading to a madcap escape with floating dwarves serving as target practice for orcs, who are simultaneously serving as more grim target practice for the pursuing elves’ never-erring arrows and swords.
Which leads us to the sometimes supernaturally supercharged violence. In short, a lot of orcs died in the making of this film. Heads come off as frequently here as they do when a 4-year-old plays with LEGOs. They get impaled by arrows. Or are simply mowed down by Legolas (who’s also not in the book) and Tauriel (who’s not in any of the books). What the film lacks in epic battles (we’ll get that in the next installment), it makes up for in close-up elven/orcen/dwarven combat.
The resultant, nonstop action is likely to please fans who thought the first installment was too plodding, enrage fans for whom Tolkien’s books are considered holy writ and exasperate parents trying to thoughtfully discern just how much orc slaughter is too much for young Tolkien fans to take in.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.