Rating: PG-13
Release Date: December 13, 2013
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, James Nesbitt
Director: Peter Jackson
Studio: New Line Cinema & MGM
Genre: Peter Jackson Awakens His Movie-Maestro Mojo
Recommendation: 5 out of 5 Arkenstone Burglars

Meet the new playas in Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth! The Bearded One’s wizardly pack is back, and he’s ramped up the digital danger and cranked up the Arkenstone action, in the second of three popcorn-palace pix adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece The Hobbit, this creature-feature sequel christened The Desolation of Smaug.

Set six decades before The Lord Of The Rings, Smaug picks up Tolkien’s tale of bumbling Bilbo Baggins and his 13 dimwitted dwarves, continuing to hike East on their quixotic quest to reclaim their Lonely Mountain homeland and its long-lost treasure — which unfortunately happens to be the new ‘hood and crib of the Dragon Smaug. Along with the Wizard Gandalf, Bilbo & Company greet giant spiders, meet man-bears, get out-foxed by femme fatale warrior elves, and flesh out the fantasy of Tolkien’s vision.

 Smaug isn’t the Middle Earth picnic that the first Hobbit movie was. You can feel Jackson taking liberties with the book’s sacred texts, stitching together battle orc backstories  and inventing cute characters (Tauriel, a pissy chick elf) and even borrowing bow-and-arrow buttboy Legolas (Orlando Bloom) from LOTR. This second installment picks up the pace and heightens the 3D battle-action ‘til it’s totally IN YOUR FACE. In interviews, Jackson’s argued with carping critics that his Hobbit multiplexers are more faithful to Tolkien than his Oscar-winning Ring flicks. Who gives a flip? Carp all you want about Jackson’s script-doctoring — his storytelling is worthy of more Oscar gold, and with Smaug the Bearded One’s found his moviemaking mojo again.

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