This time around, the dwarves are less comedic, the side trips are less annoyingly irrelevant, and the danger is far less overwhelming. Thankfully, there were only a handful of moments where I felt some character or other should probably have died, as opposed to the several times in AUJ that all the characters should have bitten the dust.
I liked the introduction of Tauriel as a sort-of romantic interest for Legolas. Given the way they both kick major orc ass, they seem to be a good fit. She also provides some leavening to counteract Legolas’s inherent distaste for all dwarves. And while her flirting with Kili is a strange addition to the story, it’s not unwelcome. I enjoyed their scenes together.
Another addition that seemed a little unnecessary was turning Lake Town (or whatever it’s called) into a police state which is swarming with spies and informers. Do we really have to make everything hard for Thorin and his company?
The confrontation between Bilbo and Smaug worked, I think. The effects on the dragon were exceptional (probably more so because I saw the film in High Frame Rate), and Cumberbatch’s performance (much like Freeman’s) was excellent.
All in all, an enjoyable film. I can only hope that There and Back Again represents a similar jump in quality, which will bring it almost to the level of the first trilogy.