The only mindset you need to have going into the “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”, is that the Hobbit films need to be taken as the fun they are. Like I said in my review for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”, the story of the Hobbit is not supposed to be the same kind of epic that the Lord of the Rings trilogy was.  As a children’s book, “The Hobbit” is a pure adventure story of a camaraderie reclaiming riches and a kingdom in the face of long odds. The Hobbit is not Lord of the Rings 2.0, and no one making these films wanted it to be.

That said, this is American cinema. Raw adventures by themselves don’t make the cut for the big screen. There needs to be internal character conflict to compliment the external dangers of dragons and spiders. So a romance was invented for the screen between Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), an elf character not in the book, and Kili, one of the dwarves.  As a story element, I found it to be irrelevant. But Evangeline Lilly gives the film a good female role.

New characters and settings are introduced without too much complexity, which, given the sheer number of each with the cool appendix additions, is a credit to the writers.

Orlando Bloom as Legolas comes back to Middle Earth for his guest appearance . Though not explicitly in the book, he is the Elf King Thranduil’s son, and has always lived there.  He also does a great job, and has more of a role than he probably did throughout most of the LOTR trilogy. So I’m okay with it. And you should too.

Visually, “Desolation of Smaug” is even more stunning than its predecessor. I’d guess that’s thanks to Peter Jackson dominating production and editing more so than he did in the early stages of filming, but the orcs look better and more defined, the CGI is more finely tuned, and the scenery from the Woodland Realm to Erebor and its depths are fantastic creations.

There is plenty of action that’s several notches above the first film, which itself had varied and interesting choreography. Violent, fresh, and fast paced stunts and tricks are laid on through the entire movie start to finish.

Spoiler alert: You see Smaug, which Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice and personality are perfect for. Every scene with the beast is fantastic and well worth the hype.

“Desolation of Smaug” covers all of the necessary ground from start to finish with good pace and sequencing. Attention to detail clearly was the right choice in stretching the book to three films.  If you enjoyed “Unexpected Journey”, you will find “Desolation of Smaug” to be a delightful improvement and progression. It’s clocked at about 2 hours and 40 minutes, but you’ll find that there are few dull moments to make it feel anywhere close to that. Expect to be left craving the final installment another long year away.