In the second installment of Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy the director recaptures some of the magic that embroiders his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. In addition to showing the exploits of hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), this film also concentrates on the dynamics that shape and threaten Middle Earth, J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy-world setting.
To achieve a length of more than 2.5 hours, Jackson and his co-writers do not depend solely on Tolkien’s book from the 1950s, but have mined the story’s extensive appendices, published in the 1980s.
As the film opens we meet would-be dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). In order to unite the various factions of his disparate kingdom and gain recognition as its one true king, Thorin requires a particular gemstone, long associated with the throne. The stone is held deep within the cavernous Lonely Mountain, guarded by the snake-like dragon Smaug, (hypnotically voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) along with mounds of the dragon’s other stolen booty.
Under the guidance of the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Thorin and his boisterous band of dwarf supporters undertake a quest to Lonely Mountain, bringing along Bilbo Baggins as their burglar.
Director Peter Jackson moves this chapter forward at a sprightly pace, pitting our hero Bilbo and the dwarfs against a variety of evil forces that include giant spiders and dwarf-hating orcs.
The members of the company prove tougher than their rambling dialog might indicate and are a fine bunch to have in your corner during a brawl. Dwarfs, we learn, are unloved by just about everyone when they (minus Bilbo) are imprisoned without good reason by the imperious, immortal elfin king Thranduil (Lee Pace).
Bilbo uses the invisibility bestowed by the magic ring to save them, but his rescue would mean little if they were not also protected and aided by visionary elfin prince Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and his elfin right-hand-girl warrior Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). A character invented by Jackson, Tauriel functions as the elves’ heart and one of the few able to see beyond their isolationist policies.
The company eventually makes its way to the foot of Lonely Mountain, where Smaug has slumbered for many years. They hire Ferryman Bard (Luke Evans) to hide them from the prying eyes of greedy men while preparing to make their assault on Smaug’s treasure.
Surrounded by enemies and usurpers, Bilbo and the dwarfs spend much of the film on their own because Gandalf, who is wiser than them and has friends in high places, is called away on other business.
Fans of the fantasy genre will be satisfied, even if this adaptation falls short of Jackson’s all-engrossing “Lord of the Rings.” Getting to know Bilbo better is a pleasurable proposition, and we’ll have one more opportunity to do so in the final installment, due in December 2014.