One of my chief concerns with The Hobbit being expanded into three films from one book was whether or not the movies would feel padded, or if they would drag at any point. With the second film, I think it’s safe to say that they certainly feel long, but I can’t say I have any major complaints about the added content thus far. In fact, I would say the padding was less obvious here than in the first movie — and is greatly helped by the company of dwarfs-plus-two making significant progress in their quest.
Narrative progress is always helpful in an epic story.
Part of what makes the additions work here is that they feel like they develop a bit more organically from the original novel. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) directs the dwarfs and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) through a dark forest which necessitates their rescue/capture by elves — giving Thorin (Richard Armitage) further opportunities to demonstrate his mistrust of other peoples, a mistrust which is reflected in his elven counterpart Thranduil (Lee Pace). This gives Peter Jackson the opportunity to bring Orlando Bloom back in to reprise his role as Legolas from The Lord of the Rings, and also to stitch in the character of Tauriel, a creation of his and Fran Walsh’s. Tauriel is played by Evangeline Lilly, and is the Elvish captain of the guards, a role that didn’t exist as a named or developed character in the novel. Tauriel disagrees with the decision of Thranduil regarding helping the dwarves, and there is also something of a budding romance between her and Fili (Dean O’Gorman).
This subplot doesn’t feel entirely necessary (though I understand wanting to increase the number of female roles in the story), but while it isn’t outstanding it isn’t bad either. And though it’s not part of the novel, and there’s something to be said for a pure adaptation of the book, there’s also the question of whether anybody who hasn’t read the book — and is thus just viewing the movie on its own merits — would notice whether any patchwork was being done. I don’t think they would in this case. It doesn’t feel out of place, because it’s an outgrowth of the journey of the dwarfs, unlike the ongoing Necromancer subplot — which feels like it exists partly to explain why Gandalf keeps wandering off but mostly to remind the audience that this all leads into facing Sauron in The Lord of the Rings.
Finally, a few words must be said about the dragon. Smaug finally appears on screen in this film (which, given the name, he certainly ought to), and he’s as visually impressive as he needs to be. When Bilbo butters him up by praising his magnificence, the audience can easily agree with him. He looks terrific, and with a voice provided by Benedict Cumberbatch, he sounds impressive as well. Seeing him in a more proactive role in the third film should be a real treat.