"The Desolation of Smaug" is a big, exceedingly thunderous sequel that brings the noble adventurers of "The Hobbit" to unexpected, beautifully rendered paths. The first part of Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" prequel previously introduced the saga's earlier heroes, including Gandalf the wizard (Ian McKellen) and Bilbo the Hobbit (Martin Freeman), going off on a quest with a number of underdog companions. But the journey is fraught with savage perils, made even more evident in this action-heavy sequel.
What the first part may miss in terms of character development, "Smaug" more than makes up for it; we see many of the characters finally getting focus, helping make their personalities and identities more discernible. As for the bits and pieces that connect with the previous trilogy, the film gives more than enough to make longtime fans happy. Watch out for the naming of Bilbo's blade, the appearance of some familiar arachnids, and the re-introduction of warrior-elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom). Another elf, the agile Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), also makes her grand, monster-slaying entrance.
Comparisons to the first "LOTR" sequel is inevitable; while it isn't as exciting or as sturdy as "Two Towers," "Desolation of Smaug" nevertheless has its own merits. And even when we know that this part ends with a cliffhanger as well, it still gets perplexing when the film ends, at that exact point where things get really interesting. Regardless, the titular dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) is quite the monstrous sight to behold; it would be interesting to see it finally unleashed and rampaging in the final installment, to be shown in December.