First off, I enjoyed the movie, though I wish there'd been more Tolkien in it. Up till now, there'd been two schools of thought about the Peter Jackson HOBBIT movies. Some people (mainly film critics and non-Tolkien fans) thought the first film, AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, was too slow. They complained about the flashbacks that explained what was going on, about the extended scenes of character development and interaction (the dwarves at Bag End, the meeting of the White Council). These folks wanted an action movie, pure and simple, and objected to the parts of the film that were faithful to the book.
At the same time, a separate group (mainly diehard grognard Tolkien fans) thought Jackson had turned the book they loved into an action movie. They complained, at length, and bitterly, about the tendency of orcs to show up every time acting started to break out and things were getting good, in some Middle-earth equivalent of the old crime novelist (Chandler?) who said that whenever things slowed down, he just had a guy come through the door holding a gun. They wanted the action sequences trimmed (or, in some cases, cut altogether) and the mood pieces with character interaction brought to the fore.
Jackson, of course, did both: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY included both the character interaction and the battle scenes. For the new film, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG, he seems to have decided to listen to the movie critics and go the action movie route --understandable, as he has no doubt concluded (rightly, I think) that nothing will appease the purists and he might as well ignore them; there's no point of taking the irredeemably hostile into account when deciding how to present his version of Tolkien's story.
The best example of this is the barrel-rider scene. In both movie and the book, Bilbo lurks about the wood-elves caves, comes up with a clever scheme, frees the dwarves, gets them in barrel and the barrels (and himself) in the river. In the book, this is followed by a few scenes of Bilbo alone coping with the difficult journey atop a barrel down the Forest River; a nice character-building moment. I assumed it'd be cut down to one of Jackson's signature montages he does so well, of characters moving through spectacular New Zealand/Middle-earth landscapes. Instead, in the movie he decides that Dwarves hidden inside barrels where we can't see them isn't visually interesting; that having the dwarves riding in open barrels makes the scene more visually dramatic. Fair enough.
Except that being swept down the river and through rapids etc. isn't enough for Jackson: he adds a war-band of Orcs attacking the dwarves as they sail past. And then he has to trump this by having elves attack the orcs attacking the dwarves riding in barrels through rapids. The house that Jack(son) built, so to speak, turns out to have a frantic pace. One of the early reviews I saw of the movie praised it by comparison to the Indiana Jones films, and I think that's justified. It's just that this descriptor covers a lot of ground, from the freshness and excitement of the original RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK to the self-parody of INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, the hapless follow-up. Luckily I think Jackson delivers a superior grade action movie. It's just that THE HOBBIT is so much more than an action novel.
If the barrel-riding scene is good Indiana Jones, then bad Indiana shows up in the long sequence of The Dragon That Cdn't Shoot Straight. The decision by the dwarves that, rather than die of starvation cowering in some hole, they're going to make a good-faith effort to kill the dragon and give it their all is a good one in that it makes perfect sense in terms of the story as they're telling it. But the fact that the most powerful non-god creature on Middle-earth can't even wound a single dwarf no matter how many times he tries broke secondary belief for me: I quickly realized that for purposes of this scene all the dwarves and Bilbo were immortal and invulnerable, which drained it of all drama. From then until Smaug's departure from the mountain it was just a matter of watching pretty special effects. And they were mighty impressive: no one does this kind of thing better than Weta Workshop. But that's not what I go to movies to see.
Which is not to say there's not much to admire here. Once again Martin Freeman delivers a phenomenal performance as Bilbo. McKellan has said that, as a fellow actor, one of the things he most admires about Freeman is the way he portrays what a character is thinking by the changing expressions on his face (or sometimes just by body language), and that is on display to good effect in several scenes here. Then too, to have a movie in which one of the greatest actors of our times, Sir Ian McKellan, plays one of the great characters of all time, Gandalf the Grey, is something to be cherished. And I have to say that Armitage's Thorin is growing on me, and that I prefer the dwarves in their more disheveled mode (beards and hair braidings coming undone) as they are here in the post-barrel scenes. But I'm sorry that the individual dwarves have less to do, even in background scenes. Of my three favorites, only one (Balin) gets a good amount of screen time; Bofur is less prominent than in the first film, and Bifur vanishes into the background, his quirky little bits being almost entirely omitted.
Hence, although I enjoyed the film, I wanted more Tolkien: more wonder and less action.
More later on the new characters introduced in this middle film of the series.