Let's get the expected grumblings out of the way first: imposing a nine hour adaptation on The Hobbit is daft and...Smaug finds itself stretched. Yes. Fine - we know that going in. But what's it like being dipped into this wonderfully realised universe for nearly three hours one more time? While surprise might be absent now Middle Earth is still an entertaining place to be.
Bilbo (Freeman) and the band of dwarves, headed up by Thorin (Armitage), looking to reclaim his place as king, make their way for the Lonely Mountain. Meanwhile Gandalf (McKellen) travels to Dor Guldor to seek out the identity of the Necromancer...
With Lord of the Rings part of pop culture now Jackson has resorted to the artificial upping of stakes in the chase of invention - first there were Orcs, then mean Orcs, now there are REALLY mean Orcs - and the shoehorning in of an unlikely love triangle between elves Bloom (Legolas is now an invincible superhero), Evangeline Lilly and dwarf Aidan Turner feels forced. The Laketown sequence goes on forever without anything happening and fails to give Stephen Fry a decent line to warrant the actor's appearance. And despite various mentions of the titular dragon it's easy to forget what the band are up to and why - that's just criminal.
It can have the air of a copy, like it was someone trying to do a Peter Jackson while adapting a novel by someone trying to do a Tolkien. More often than not you wish Aragorn and co. would turn up to start a massive battle or something.
To his credit Jackson is aware of this and works hard to tie this in with Lord of the Rings with Mirkwood and Moria making an appearance and there is a passing mention of 'one of the nine'. The director comes up trumps with some snazzy action sequences: the river rapids are fun, the spiders are creepy, and the teasing revelation of Smaug (sleazily voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) and his lair is very impressive.
When it comes to the middle movie of a Middle Earth franchise... Smaug is no Two Towers but it's hard to resist this world and when the story kicks into gear, which it does from time to time, it offers up some genuine excitement.