Entertainment Weekly (A+)
The Desolation of Smaug is a more grandly somber movie, and also a much better one, with forces of boldly intense and unified malevolence. ...This time Jackson nails that tone: the feeling that Bilbo, who's been recruited to steal back a wondrous gem called the Arkenstone from the dragon Smaug, is up against a cosmic storm of black forces. The dragon has ravaged the land, the angry, hulking orcs are on a power trip, and the elves — led by the imperious Thranduil (Lee Pace) — are isolationists who trap the dwarves in a dungeon, setting up a great escape via wine barrels on white rapids. ...Yet Jackson's direction is spiky and majestic, and the risky move of inventing his own Tolkien character — the elf guard Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) — as a love interest for Legolas (Orlando Bloom) pays off. These two bring some badly needed heat to the woodlands. Speaking of heat, the dragon is, quite simply, a marvel: gargantuan yet balletic, hoarding his mountain of gold with a razor-toothed smile, breathing not just flame but an inferno, and voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch with the most delicious, insidious knowledge.
"...The Desolation of Smaug” reps a major improvement on its predecessor simply by virtue of picking up at a more eventful place in the narrative... these character additions are meant to up the dramatic stakes and foster a sense of continuity with the “Rings” movies, the emotional gains are minimal. ...As ever, in terms of logistical mastery and marshaling of resources in service of a grandly involving bigscreen entertainment, one couldn’t ask for a better ringmaster (so to speak) than Jackson. There’s an unmistakable pleasure in being transported back to his Middle-earth, in being cushioned by the lush strains of Howard Shore’s score and dazzled by the elaborately detailed sets created by production designer Dan Hennah and his team, seamlessly integrating Weta’s topnotch visual effects."Collider (B+)
"There’s a lot happening in Desolation of Smaug, but it all helps to broaden Middle-earth in a way Unexpected Journey never did. Unexpected Journey is passable enough, but it was never going anywhere particularly new or interesting. The goblin caves looked liked the Uruk-hai dwellings but with more wooden bridges. The forests were unremarkable. At one point they were climbing on stone giants for no particular reason. By comparison, Mirkwood and Lake-town have their own personalities, and more importantly, people talk about other places in Middle-earth. Jackson is showing and telling, and it makes the world feel lived in, but in a different way than Lord of the Rings. ...As for the new additions, Smaug and Bard are somewhat unremarkable. ...Smaug does a lot of talking, and Bilbo does a lot of scrambling. Most of Smaug’s dialogue boils down to, “Let me keep telling you how awesome I am and how everyone else sucks,” and it gets old quickly. He’s far more effective as a flying, fire-breathing, stampeding set piece."Empire (5/5)
"While An Unexpected Journey had plenty of bucolic charm, it did, for a Middle-earth film, feel oddly inconsequential. The Desolation Of Smaug remedies that. Moody, urgent and, for want of a better word, Ringsier, it’s a much more satisfying film. As Bilbo (a still spot-on Martin Freeman) and co. near their destination, the film gets increasingly busy, splitting the group in two and intercutting between those strands and Gandalf (Ian McKellen), who’s off poking around the ruins of Dol Guldur. That storyline still hasn’t quite caught fire (it basically amounts to the wizard yelling at a giant, evil ink-blot), and it could be argued that more screentime might have been usefully given to the dwarves, who remain largely anonymous. Besides Thorin (Richard Armitage), whose facade of nobility is beginning to crumble, revealing baser motives beneath, the only one who gets much attention is Kili (Aidan Turner), vying with a returning Legolas (Orlando Bloom) for the attentions of auburn-haired elf ninja Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). As love triangles go, it’s fairly rote — and might have been more dramatic were Kili not the one dwarf who looks like an elf anyway — but Tauriel, a character created for the film who’s already got some Tolkienites raging, fits seamlessly into the world and gets to execute several pleasingly brutal orc-kills: at points, the film’s one arrow-in-the-head away from turning into The Raid."Rolling Stone (2.5/5)
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a little less long and a little less boring. That's because after two hours of setup involving Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he hobbits along with the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and 13 dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), to win back the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, the dragon shows up. This Smaug is a dragon to die for. Director Peter Jackson performs the same kind of miracles with the digital Smaug that he did with Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy."