Everyone had reservations when it was announced Peter Jackson would be splitting up “The Hobbit” into a trilogy. Do we really need three separate movies? Can’t this 300-page book be done in one movie? Isn’t this just a ploy to milk a franchise and make an extra couple billion dollars? When “An Unexpected Journey” finally came out last December, we all found that these initial concerns were pretty much spot-on.

“An Unexpected Journey” was a perfectly solid return to Middle-earth with some great set pieces and plenty of atmosphere. But the story was more dragged out than the past three seasons of “Revenge.” That’s pretty much the same case with “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” The awesome moments do make the movie worthwhile. Still, it’d be nice to simply see all three “Hobbit” movies edited down to a solitary three-hour epic.

Martin Freeman continues to come into his own as Bilbo Baggins, who has gotten much more confident after finding a mysterious ring. How much do you want to bet that’s going to come into play later? By Bilbo’s side are Ian McKellen’s Gandalf and 13 dwarves who only diehard fanboys can remember by name. The original fellowship is still on its quest to the Lonely Mountain to face the dreaded dragon known as Smaug. Along the way, they encounter a number of cool new characters, including Lee Pace as the firm Elvenking and Luke Evans as a skillful bowman named Bard.

The real stars of this “Hobbit” movie, however, are the visuals. As one would expect, the effects are nothing short of phenomenal and make leeway for several jaw dropping action sequences. The best include an escape from the elf-king’s halls via barrels and an encounter with a nest of giant spiders. It does get kind of silly when the spiders actually start talking, but not nearly as ridiculous as when the CGI wolves talked in “Twilight.”

Then there’s Smaug himself, who finally immerges from his giant pile of gold coins. What can be said about him other than that he’s the single most impressive giant dragon in the history of cinema. Big, bad, fiery, sophisticated, and supplied with the deep voice of Benedict Cumberbatch, Smaug makes King Kong and the T-Rex in “Jurassic Park” look like noobs. One can only hope that the dragons on “Game of Thrones” grow up to be so bad. Smaug all but steels the show, too bad the climatic confrontation with him goes on way too long and we still have one more movie to go.

If Jackson wanted to take liberties and expand upon the Tolkein universe, why not give the 13 dwarves more distinctive personalities? Even in the original book, they were pretty much interchangeable. So far, the only one we’ve really gotten to know is Richard Armitage as the fearless leader Thorin. As a result, our heroes never resonate with the audience like the characters in “The Lord of the Rings.”

“The Hobbit” is unlikely to go down as a classic film trilogy like its Oscar-winning predecessor. As far as prequels go, however, “The Desolation of Smaug” and “An Unexpected Journey” are at least satisfying.

• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at nspake@asu.edu.

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