International critics are praising Sir Peter Jackson's second instalment of The Hobbit trilogy, with the dragon Smaug called "stupendous" in the film's first reviews.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug premiered in Los Angeles on Monday and will be released in New Zealand on Thursday, and it already has a rating of 76 per cent on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, and 67 per cent on Metacritic.
The first Hobbit movie was widely criticised for its slow pace, but The Hollywood Reporter writer Todd McCarthy said nearly everything about the second movie was an improvement over the first.
"Jackson gets the drama in gear here from the outset with a sense of storytelling that possesses palpable energy and purpose."
However, he said towards the end of the 161 minute film the director's "tendency to let bloat creep in reasserts itself ... he has a hard time knowing when enough is enough even as the three-hour goalpost looms dead ahead."
Empire magazine gave the film five stars.
"A huge improvement on the previous instalment, this takes our adventurers into uncharted territory and delivers spectacle by the ton," Nick de Semlyen wrote.
The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw gave the film four out of five stars describing it as a "cheerfully entertaining and exhilarating adventure tale".
Variety's Justin Chang said: "After a bumpy beginning with An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy finds its footing in this much more exciting and purposeful second chapter."
Time Magazine said the movie was one of the top 10 films of the year describing it as a "vigorous and thrilling middle episode".
However, not all reviews were favourable.
Robbie Collins of Britain's Daily Telegraph gave the film two out of five stars and described it as a "weary take on J R R Tolkien's playful children's book".
"Maybe this really is what a lot of people want to see from a film version of The Hobbit, but let's at least accept that Tolkien would probably not have been among them," he wrote.
Though, he said Jackson's recreation of Middle-earth was "unimpeachable".
"It's a moodier, more anxious story that gives Martin Freeman more dimensions to play with, as Bilbo and the band of dwarves journey on towards their confrontation with treasure-hoarding dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch), beset by a laundry-list of perils including giant spiders, a temperamental bear-man, treacherous rapids and a "less wise, more dangerous" breed of Elves ... The Desolation of Smaug feels Ringsier in tone while forging entirely its own narrative path, marrying breathless action with shrewd character building."
- Emma Dibdin, Digital Spy
"There comes a time when we must stop kidding ourselves. These Hobbit films - with The Desolation of Smaug representing the shank of the trilogy - are not real movies. These are exploitation films for Tolkien nuts, for enthusiasts of the original Lord of the Rings movies and for audiences so hungry for high fantasy they'll gobble up whatever is served to them and ask for seconds."
- Jordan Hoffman, ScreenCrush
"Eschewing the kitchen-sink minutiae of the first installment, Peter Jackson creates a rousing, immersive sequel that offers the same sort of sweeping action - and emotional engagement - that helped the "Rings" films become a cultural phenomenon ... it's triumphantly engaging in a way that rivals Jackson's magnificent Two Towers - and best of all, it makes you eager to see the next film in a way that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey didn't. "
- Todd Gilchrist, The Wrap