Like many sequels and prequels, familiarity is An Unexpected Journey's biggest problem. With the shock and awe of Peter Jackson and FX boffins Weta's astonishing new cinematic landscape ten years behind us, this feels like The Fellowship Of The Ring made in a parallel universe: one in which Jackson failed to nail the flow of his script, forgot to connect his big set-pieces together coherently and was stuck with twelve interchangeable dwarves instead of nine distinct and properly-drawn characters.
L-R: Dobbin, Boffin, Boggins, Stinky, Minky, Groin, Boing,
Fidget, Wally, Sputum, Scrotum, Bumhole and Susan
But ironically, familiarity is also this film's best friend. Sinking back into Middle-earth is like flopping into a well-loved sofa, and it's hard not to forgive it its faults for all that greatness we take for granted: spectacular visuals, excellent performances (Martin Freeman and Tim From The Office have never felt so disparate), a stirring score and Gollum, still cinema's greatest CG character.
And while those set-pieces may occasionally feel forced - hello, Stone Giants - they are, for the most part, incredible. Jackson's action is leagues above much of modern cinema, and he handles the ambitious scale of his (and Tolkien's) imaginings with effortless skill. A prologue teasing Smaug The Magnificent (this trilogy's Sauron The Bastard) is thunderously exciting, while a scrap between those Stone Giants is glorious fun, even if it's cock-waving for its own sake. Only an extended rumble in the hall of the goblin king overstays its welcome, and not just because the goblin king doesn't look anything like he's supposed to.
The eyeshadow's completely wrong for a start
Sadly you're never too far away from a pointless meander (there's no way Sylvester McCoy's eccentric wizard Radagast The Brown doesn't get called Radagast The Shit behind his back) or another convenient, life-saving intervention from Gandalf and his