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December 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Virtually every review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug compares it with the previous installment of The Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey — mostly favorably. For example, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Steven Rea remarks that it “is not only eight minutes shorter than its forebear, it’s at least eight minutes better — less twee, less chatty, more action, more Elvish.” Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal says that it is “far more focused and much more exciting than the last one.” Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune writes that “The first movie’s harrumphing throat-clearing has given way to a swift, imposing adventure boasting several wing-ding action sequences.” And Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter comments, “Nearly everything about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug represents an improvement over the first installment.” Nevertheless, several critics, while praising the film overall, find a lot not to like about it. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times excoriates Jackson for introducing the character Tauriel into the story “to femme up the nearly all-male world.” While she welcomes the female character, she also objects to “the conventionality, the lack of surprise and poverty of imagination that’s gone into the creation of the only woman in the movie with an active, substantive role and which speaks to Mr. Jackson’s weaknesses as a director. Because when he is good … he is very, very good. But when he is bad he’s a crushingly straight, unoriginal director.” And Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News concludes that “there simply isn’t enough material to support three films” and that director Peter Jackson winds up simply milking J.R. Tolkien’s slim tale. “There’s no shaking the sense that the filmmakers want to mine as much money as they can” from it, she writes. As for the principal special effect — the fire-breathing dragon Smaug, most critics agree that it is a marvelous creation. “a spectacular-looking creature with napalm-spewing lungs and the sneering voice of Benedict Cumberbatch,” in the words of Rafer Guzmán in Newsday. A few critics, however, come down hard on this middle movie set in Middle Earth. Lou Lumenick of the New York Post is one them. It all amounts to “a space-holding, empty-headed epic filled with characters and places (digital and otherwise) that are hard to keep straight, much less care about,” he concludes.