‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’: An Improvement Over Peter Jackson’s Part I

Martin Freeman as Bilbo, John Callen as support dwarf

As holiday movie titles go, The Desolation of Smaug is a less-than-catchy handle for an evening’s buoyant entertainment. But only to the uninitiated. To the throbbing fan base of The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien’s fun and relatively compact fantasy novel, those words portend sheer fire-breathing awesomeness.

By now you know that The Hobbit has been elongated into three hefty movies by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson. Smaug is the middle one, and it improves on last year’s rambling An Unexpected Journey by sticking to a clean, headlong storyline and jettisoning much of Part 1’s juvenile humor. Our hero, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), is traveling with his crowd of bumptious dwarfs, intent on finding a magical stone inside a mountain crammed with treasure. Wee wrinkle: The mountain is home to a dragon named Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), who likes to emerge periodically from his lair and burn down neighboring Laketown.

This is really the only plot.

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