...Mt claws, spears! My tail, a thunderbolt! My wings, a Hurricane!
And my breath?
WARINING! MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
So, "Desolation of Smaug"....
HOLY @#$&*ING !@#$&!!!!
I mean, MAN! This was an in-freaking-credible film experience!
I still like "Unexpected Journey" a little better, but this is still one of the better films in the series!
It's also the one that - so far - takes the most liberties with the source material. Most of what is written is pretty untouched (with the exception of a briefer stay at Beorn's place), so it's a question of additions and some slight switching. Nothing exceeding the level of "Faramir Becomes an Obstacle" from Two Towers, just a little bit more of them. It's up to you whether or not you can personally accept the flat-out changes to the story, which are:
1. A new character in Tauriel. She is the captain of Thranduil's guard and fancies Legolas (who, by the way, is quite active in his father's court), but is told point-blank by the elven king that his son is too good for her, so she forms an odd sort of mutual crush-like thing on - of all people - Kili. Speaking of whom...
2. Kili is pierced by a Morgul Arrow fired by Bolg, Azog's son. It's a superficial wound in the leg, but being of Morgul make he gets sicker. This prompts Thorin to have to leave him behind in Laketown along with Fili (who refused to leave his brother), Oin (who is the healer of the group anyway), and Bofur (who overslept and missed the boat out).
3. This all comes together as Tauriel has to kind of play Arwen to Kili's Frodo (with a nod to Kingsfoil) while Legolas fights off Bolg's squad - once more, this is in Laketown.
4. Also, the rest of the Dwarves actually grow a conscience and try to save Bilbo from Smaug, leading to - from an objective cinematic standpoint - a pretty damn exciting chase through the forges of Erebor where Smaug's fire and greed are used against him...but he ends up leaving to go burn up Laketown anyway.
There are more deviations, but as I said those are straight additions either inspired by or straight-up taken from Tolkien's writings. Above are the only true major story changes to what we've read in the book already. I had no problem with them, and honestly I can only forsee certain extreme die-hard Tolkien purists taking issue. Well, them and people who are just trying to be negative and contrary because they don't like the movie being split in the first place. And this is not counting people who don't like Tolkien stuff anyway.
Was there anything I disliked? Well, I will say the use of Azog continues to stump me. I was underwhelmed when I first saw him in "Journey," but the more I watched him the more I really liked what they did with him and why. Which is the reason why I was really sort of confused when about 20 minutes in, he's summoned to Dol Guldor, leaves his son in charge of hunting Thorin's company, and gets nothing to really do until Gandalf comes snooping around and even then it's pretty minor. And, again, I missed some of the Beorn stuff from the book, but what we do get is pretty awesome.
* Everything else.
Okay, fine. Actual Highlights:
* Mirkwood. Just...Mirkwood.
* Sub point: I know Shelob is supposed to be the big mama, worse than any other spiders. However, the Mirkwood spiders are ABOUT A MILLIONS TIMES MORE FREAKING LEGITIMATELY SCARY THAN SHELOB EVER WAS. It was also a nice surprise when Bilbo's ring translated Spider-speech for them. I didn't think we'd get any talking animals.
* Thranduil is an a-hole. Well done, Ned the Piemaker.
* Barrels out of Bond. Just...Barrels out of Bond.
* More Radagast please.
* The reveal of the Necromancer's identity (which I will not spoil on the odd chance you've glossed over the part of the books the go into it) is done absolutely perfectly.
* Laketown is just an amazingly designed location, both set and ditigal.
* Similarly, this is the first time even in any version of The Hobbit where I actually gave half a crap about Bard. Well done Luke Evans and the screenwriters.
* Stephen Fry alert.
* I've made no secret that of all creatures living, extinct, or made-up, I regard dragons more fondly than any other. I've long since discarded viewing dragons with any sort of real fear. So imagine my surprise when I finally saw Smaug in all his magnificence. Yes, he had a really cool design. Yes, he was fantastically animated. Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch gave an amazing performance. But at the end of the day, Smaug was also legitimately frightening. He was a scary freaking dragon.
* The ending, or rather the placement of it in the story, will no doubt anger some. But for me, it was absolutely the PERFECT place to cut to black. I think I actually said "YES!" and applauded when the credits came up at that point, only because even going in I couldn't imagine the break happening at any other place.
December 2014 can't get here fast enough.