'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug': The Reviews Are In!

Critics agree that the second installment of Peter Jackson's trilogy is an improvement over the first.

Clocking in at 161 minutes, a whopping eight minutes shorter than its predecessor, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" is a lengthy journey, but moviegoers can rest assured that at the finish line is a reward.

The second installment of Peter Jackson's trilogy is garnering generally positive reviews from critics, who deem the film an improvement over the first and praise Benedict Cumberbatch's captivating voice- and motion-capture performance as the titular dragon. The film also sees the return of Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, Ian McKellan as Gandalf and Richard Armitage's rowdy band of Dwarves. Joining the cast are Evangeline Lilly as the newly-created elf Tauriel and Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman.

See our "Smaug" infographic here!

It's Better Than The First One:

"The first installment of the adaptation of the beloved fantasy-adventure novel was bloated, boring and slow to get started. Jackson's handsome new addition to the canon, subtitled 'The Desolation of Smaug,' is a fleet, fun redemption of the film franchise, the first chapter of which had J.R.R. Tolkien fans crying foul." — Michael O'Sullivan, The Washington Post

'A Dragon To Die For':

"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. Immortally voiced by Andy Serkis, Gollum seduced and scared you in equal doses. Ditto Smaug." — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

The Elvan Additions Aren't Bad, Either:

"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." — Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

But It's Still Pretty Slow:

"At least this installment doesn't begin, as the first did, with drunken revelry, goofy singing and dish-washing. But, like its predecessor, it features way too much trudging through forests." — Claudia Puig, USA Today