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The Desolation of Agency

Like many of you I went to see “The Desolation of Smaug” this weekend. My reaction to “An Unexpected Journey” was luke warm. I felt several scenes could have been cut to have a tighter film overall. But for the most part I felt that it captured the sense of adventure and wonder that was “The Hobbit.”

For this film, I was mostly there to see Smaug. We’ve reached an era in CG that finally we could do dragons justice. Not that movies like “Dragon Heart” were bad — I remember being blown away by how awesome it was back then — but this is Smaug. He is THE dragon. And man did they nail it. I can agree with Martin Freeman, he was Smaug the Stupendous.

I wish I could say as much for other parts of the film. Sure, the Barrel Ride was a lot of fun. I’d say it captured the perfect essence of adventure. A bit ridiculous? Sure. But I laughed with mirth and enjoyed every moment of it. If only Legolas and the completely-made-up Tauriel could have been left in Mirkwood.

What a dreadful inclusion to the story. I can understand showing Legolas. He lives there, it makes sense he’d show up, and I enjoyed the little moment between him and Gloin. A little wink to fans of the series. But why invent a brand new character and insert a love triangle? If we’re looking for relationships, why are we not focusing on the growing bond and eventual betrayal between Thorin and Bilbo. Is it because Hollywood believes American audiences can’t handle platonic male relationships? Probably. And I can see where that fear comes from. Just look at all the jokes/memes between Sam and Frodo being lovers. On some level, was Jackson trying to head that off?

Ultimately, the inclusion of Legolas and Tauriel robbed the dwarves of their agency. What were moments for the dwarves to shine and demonstrate their martial prowess, are robbed by elven ninjary. Back to the Barrel Ride, we do get some great moments with the dwarves. We get to see how well they work together to overcome their foe — tossing weapons around and chopping down tree trunk bridges. Jackson even gave us one of the most spectacular moments of Barrel Bowling and Dwarven Beserker Barrage! I loved it so much that I’ll forgive the magically empty barrel out of nowhere.

But in the third act it all falls apart. Orcs descend upon Lake Town, Kili lay dying from an orcish arrow, while those that stayed behind fight to save his life. Instead of giving us a scene where the dwarves win against all odds, using their surroundings to defeat their foe AND save the life of their friend, we have to be saved by the elves. Jackson even set us up for that moment. Bard gives them “weapons” of smith hammers and fishing hooks that the dwarves scoff at. What a great gun on the wall moment! In the fight to save their lives, the dwarves pick up the make-shift weapons and go to town!

It’s sad to see the dwarves pushed aside in their own story. What should be their moment to shine, turns into the Legolas Action Hour. The dwarves should not be looking to Smaug as their ultimate enemy, but Peter Jackson.

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