I saw "The Desolation of Smaug" tonight and I am still processing this. I liked it. I liked a lot. I wish I could say I loved it, but I didn't. If I'm completely honest, all of Peter Jackson's Middle Earth movies had some dumb moments and elements in them. But they never annoyed me to the extent that two unfortunate pieces do in this film. Let's get these out of the way first.
I thought this movie had some really bad pacing issues. A lot of people complained that the first movie was very slow, that it took over an hour for things to start happening. Too many quiet moments. This movie took the opposite extreme, the action was almost non-stop. There were very few moments to breathe. While most of the action scenes were awesome, Peter Jackson didn't quite know where to stop in places, and what was awesome crossed over into excessive at times... granted, it became awesome again at various points, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. The barrel chase went on for too long, and so did the confrontation with Smaug at the film's climax which I would have been more than okay with if that barrel scene didn't go on for too long.... because the battle against Smaug was really cool.
My second big complaint was Tauriel. Okay, I am not opposed to inserting a new character, adaptations do this sort of thing all the time. Someone needs to be leading the wood elves who capture the dwarves. Want her to be a badass female elf warrior? Cool. Go for it. But where the character lost me was when they made her not only Legolas' love interest, but Kili's love interest, too. I can buy into Kili thinking she's hot, but I don't understand what attracted her to him like that so quickly... I don't understand what motivated this character period. As my friend Jennifer says, Tolkien's books tend to be sausage-fests, so I get why she was introduced, but... and once again, we come to the issues of excess... they didn't need to go so all out with her like they did. I get the feeling this is what they wanted to do with Arwen in the "Lord of the Rings" before they realized it was a bad idea.
EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that the love triangle wasn't in the script, and wasn't filmed when they did principle photography. Evangeline Lilly was part of a love triangle when she did "Lost" and didn't want to do another one, and made Peter Jackson promise there wouldn't be one, to which Jackson agreed. Then when they did the 2012 pickups, she was greeted with "Uh, the studio would really like to see...", and this is why bean counters should not dictate cinematic content.
Now that all of this is out of the way, let's talk about the rest because there is so much to like.
Smaug had a lot to live up to; I've been wanting to see him on the silver screen ever since I was a young child, and I was more than satisfied. Smaug was perfect. His design was perfect, I dare say that he is the finest computer-generated creature I have ever seen (okay, the bit where he was briefly covered in molten gold looked unfinished, but that's nitpicking). Benedict Cumberbatch's voice was perfect, and as I understand it, he did some motion capture for the dragon... I look forward to the Behind-the-Scenes features on the next Extended Edition Blu-ray to see how they brought Smaug to life. Smaug was a delicious villain, and while he doesn't get slain yet in this movie, I admit I am not all that disappointed because it means I have more of Smaug to look forward to.
Gandalf's straight out of the appendices subplot has been off-putting to some, but I enjoyed his investigation of the Necromancer of Dol Guldur (no, folks; Jackson did not make this part up). We see once again why he is such a powerful wizard, as he takes on a small army of orcs alone... but even he is no match for the Necromancer, and while I can't think of any non-book reader who didn't see it coming at this point, the reveal of the Necromancer's identity when Gandalf confronts him was really, really cool.
As usual, Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins is great. Richard Armitage's Thorin is great, and it's nice to get to know some more of the dwarves... Bombur gets a crowd pleasing badass moment during the barrel chase. And, as we all know, Sir McKellan just is Gandalf. Stephen Fry was acceptably slimy as the Master of Laketown. And while I liked Luke Evans as Bard, I couldn't help but think he looked like Legolas with a beard.
Don't take my first three paragraphs as a slam against the movie, I really enjoyed it, and I will recommend it. I just think it was flawed, but I hope the Extended Edition will help out with those pacing issues by inserting some quieter scenes back into the movie... I did enjoy the Extended Edition of the first film, I should mention. Was it the best movie I've seen this year? No. Did I enjoy it more than the comic book movies I've seen this year? Hell yes. Overall, I think "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Twelve Years A Slave" are the only ones I enjoyed more. Tauriel sucked, but I liked everybody else. That cliffhanger was just evil, and I wish I didn't have to wait a year to see the next installment.
Oh, and look for Stephen Colbert's cameo in Laketown while you're at it!