As the second chapter dawns to cavernous knocking echoes, Peter Jackson’s epic three part Bilbo Baggins’ tale begins its second phase in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. And we can all happily breathe a collective sigh of relief in the knowledge that the failures and disappointments of the first film have thankfully not been repeated here. What we have here is a much more action packed, brutal, fast paced, enjoyable, and dare I say more LOTR (Lord of the Rings) film, which is obviously very welcome indeed and more importantly let’s be honest, what everyone really wanted.

That said, I’ve also got to be honest and say I was not a hater of the first film. Fine it wasn’t Lord of the Rings of course, and those aspects of sky high expectation can go some way in explaining the disappointment surrounding it, not to mention the dubious questions over its stretched 3 film length. But personally I liked the slow course and build as we enjoyed Hobbit life, it’s the prelude to a war that will take place in the later films and I think with foresight after the 3 films have been completed, it will hopefully sit more happily in its place. That said, it was undeniably clunky, lacked focus due to too an over-population of characters and in no way merited its over-long run-time, but it was still very enjoyable and its more Middle Earth for God’s sake – stop moaning, it ruled.

Well that’s enough of me, now on with the review – so as we continue to travel with the dwarves on their quest to reclaim their homeland from the terrible dragon, Smaug, accompanied by their hobbit thief, Bilbo Baggins – now in possession of a very special ring – and their wizard, Gandalf the Grey, we find ourselves instantly back in the action. This is an epic film right from the start, with great new characters being introduced this way and that; brilliant set pieces and a more cohesive and realised view of Middle Earth. Instantly we notice, the marauding orc’s have been given the individuality lacking from the first film and this is a good sign towards the greater work here. The first new character is the massive shape-shifting Beorn, played by a suitably imposing Mikael Persbrant, a deep brooding character which leaves us wanting more. The character of King Thranduil of the Wood Elves – brilliantly played by Lee Pace – is also expanded to great benefit here and we get a glorious depiction of the elves wood based home. This leads to an extremely enjoyable barrel escape sequence and also leads to the return (or should I say technically introduction) of Legolas, who is brilliantly welcome and slightly more hard-headedly played by Orlando Bloom. Also introduced on the elf front is the brilliantly gutsy captain-of-the-guard Tauriel played by Lost’s Evangeline Lilly. She is a welcome addition and also introduces the first elf-dwarf-elf love triangle I’ve ever seen into the mix. Other new characters who standout are the heroic but downtrodden ferryman Bard played effectively well by Luke Evans, and the man he stands against, the self-obsessed and heavily paranoid Master of the brilliantly realised Lake Town, played by the always excellent Stephen Fry. Of course, the one everyone wondering about is pretty much the best, the talking dragon Smaug is brilliantly presented in all his massive megalomaniacal preening gravitas by Benedict Cumberbatch. Both visually and dialogue-wise this was a pure pleasure to behold and perfectly intense and terrifying in all its glory. Benedict is also playing the part of the Necromancer, a dark character who also makes his presence felt in this film in the form of a visually awe inspiring light verses dark magic fight which left me conceptually aghast. Add to that some brilliantly surreal Mirkwood strangeness and excellent spider fighting action and this truly makes for a highly enjoyable film.

That said the film isn’t without its flaws, the end battle between the dwarfs and Smaug racks up at nearly 30 mins and although I would have gladly sat through another hour or two of the Hobbit, it did at times feel slightly drawn out for a set piece. It also didn’t help that the film ends after all that action on a cliff-hanger – I think I heard the whole audience let out a collective ahhh because of this. But all that didn’t matter, because as I said earlier you just wanted more because it was so good. So another awesome film from the master, Peter Jackson – not as standalone or ultimately as good as the LOTR films yet but that’s a real high bar and this movie’s easily in the ball park, gives an awesome ride, and will leave you wishing for next year to come that little bit faster.