Here is the dilemma: many J.R.R. Tolkien purists will balk at the grand embellishments and whole-cloth inventions that director Peter Jackson inserts into “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” and yet this second installment of the trilogy is a better movie thanks to these serial infidelities.
It's the math that often trips up Tolkien loyalists. Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo Del Toro are spreading a 310-page novel across three lengthy epic films, and the first installment, last year's “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” felt as if the first-third of the story was being stretched threadbare to reach that length. With “Desolation of Smaug,” the team salts the original plot with elements of Tolkien's “The Silmarillion” and, in the case of Tauriel, the woodland elf played by Evangeline Lilly (“Lost”), they simply make stuff up.
And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Jackson and his collaborators mostly stay true to the spirit of Tolkien in “Desolation of Smaug,” so characters such as Tauriel mesh well with the action in Mirkwood Forest and beyond as Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the remaining dwarves of Erebor make their way to the Lonely Mountain to face down the dragon Smaug (voiced by Freeman's “Sherlock” co-star, Benedict Cumberbatch).
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‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug'
PG-13 2:41 3 stars
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Evangeline Lilly, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch.
(Extended sequences of intense family action violence, and frightening images)