When last we saw Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his band of dwarves, they were headed to confront a dragon. But along the way, they also took an awful lot of time to do the dishes and sing songs seemingly stolen from Led Zeppelin. That was a central complaint about Peter Jackson’s first entry in his Hobbit
trilogy, and it made fans wonder whether swelling J.R.R. Tolkien’s shortest book into three films would result in stagnation. That fear goes flying out the window like a decapitated orc head in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
, which justifies its nearly three-hour runtime not by cramming in tons of story, but by allowing the action pieces to play out with the lunacy of an ultraviolent Looney Tunes short. And so we have our heroes floating downriver in barrels as a battle between elves and orcs rages overhead, and a freaky showdown with an army of spiders. It all leads up to a confrontation with the titular dragon, who instantly becomes the most terrifyingly beautiful winged beast ever put to film. It wouldn’t be a Tolkien film without the self-seriousness, but The Desolation of Smaug
never loses its sense of fun, forgoing the confusingly labyrinthine setup of its predecessor in favor of watching its heroes escape ridiculous peril time and time again.