‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ Reviews: Bilbo’s Back – But Is He Better Than Ever?

Those who liked the film liked it better than the first, while those who didn’t like it didn’t like the first one to begin with

Critics suggest a very simple formula for determining whether you’ll like “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”: Fans of the first film will be happy, while haters will continue to hate.

The second installment of Peter Jackson’s trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel “The Hobbit” soars into theaters Friday, and out of the 77 reviews counted (at this moment) on critic aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 55 were positive, giving the film a 71 percent “fresh” rating.

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TheWrap’s Todd Gilchrist agreed with the majority of his peers, and declared that Bilbo Baggins’ date with the “Smaug” — the dragon voiced by Bennedict Cumberbatch — is more entertaining than his “Unexpected Journey” toward Lonely Mountain in 2012.

“It’s triumphantly engaging in a way that rivals Jackson’s magnificent ‘Two Towers’ — and best of all, it makes you eager to see the next film in a way that ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ didn’t,” Gilchrist wrote. “Powerful and provocative, ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ not only surpasses its predecessor but also stands on its own; where “Journey” took material audiences thought they knew and made it feel foreign, this one creates a uniquely original experience that also feels securely familiar.”

Washington Post critic Michael O’Sullivan joined in on the chorus of praise for the 2-hours-and-41-minutes-long fantasy film, which he called “fun redemption” for the first film in the Warner Bros. franchise, and “a treat” for fans of Tolkien’s Middle Earth — even if Jackson strayed away from the source material to include “Lord of the Rings” favorite Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and completely made up a new character named Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly).

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“Purists may moan that these additions simply aren’t needed, but they certainly don’t hurt. What’s more, they’re actually cool as heck,” O’Sullivan wrote. “With his rapid-fire archery skills, flowing blond locks and elven hotness, Legolas was an audience favorite from the “LOTR” movies, and his insertion in ‘Smaug’ is not unwelcome.”

Miami Herald critic Rene Rodriguez found the movie to be cool as heck, too — but only for one scene. Overall, he thought it was “a bloated, dawdling and distended adventure.” Even Smaug’s highly-anticipated appearance was bogged down by too much dialogue.

“As usual, Jackson doesn’t disappoint on a visual level — the dragon looks wonderful — but man does Smaug like the sound of its own voice,” Rodriguez wrote. “Acted by Benedict Cumberbatch, Smaug talks and talks and talks and talks — he’s like all the James Bond and Dr. Evil villains rolled into one — and despite its impossible size and fearsome appearance, the dragon is never all that scary.”

Tom Long’s Detroit News review had good news and bad news for his readers. The good news is that the merry band of dwarves “don’t sit around singing endlessly as they did in the first movie.” The bad news is that the second movie “is a drag,” anyway.

“Jackson, as always, has a wondrous way with action scenes, and the addition of Legolas and Tauriel certainly helps, but there’s so much of the stuff that it all mashes together. And ultimately that’s the biggest problem with “Smaug” — it’s simply too big,” Long wrote. “This film could lose an hour and be much better for the cutting. But then again, it never really needed to be made in the first place. It’s mostly just a cash register exercise. As a result, a franchise about a magical world has lost all its magic.”