Casual Hobbit/Lord Of The Rings viewers, do you exist? Two films into this series -- five if you're lumping them into one extra-long, jewelry-based throwdown of impossibly named characters and giant sword impalements -- the possibility that there is anyone who would walk into the muddly middle of a three-film, nine-hour prequel to another nine-hour saga and expect to know what's going on at all seems unlikely. By now you're either in or you're out. And you're reading this so that means you're in.
Therefore, explaining the entire plot, with its fantastic array of characters, creatures and battles is, at this point, beside the point. It's as you expect it to be. Bilbo (Martin Freeman) still has the ring; the dwarves, led by the heartthrobby Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), want to retrieve the gold from the mountain where Smaug the Dragon (the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch, busiest man in show business) lies sleeping so that they can then restore the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor; there's Gandalf (Ian McKellen) popping in and out to help with wizarding activities and warnings that everybody ignores; and there's a lot of running, chasing and fighting. After that there's more running, chasing and fighting. You came for it. You get it.
Peter Jackson wears this series like an extremely expensive yet well-worn coat, one he's very willing to share with you. His actors feel bonded to their characters, probably due to the sheer amount of time they've spent inhabiting them, and it fills in the blanks when writing turns thin. Details that would be discarded in a one-shot adaptation get a chance to exist on screen whether or not they're necessary. Nobody gives a damn about chopping out one bit. Tolkienists demand more and more and they are given every little moment. And as for that high frame rate situation that made the first installment feel like an eye gouging conducted with a fork, this time around there'll be more opportunity to see it theatrically as though it were just any other old-fashioned 2D, 24 frames-per-second movie instead of a digital torture device.
It's a next chapter that will surprise no one and yet be loved simply for existing. A small thing blown up superlarge, less complicated at its source but made ornately and then further padded for maximum comfort. It's a lot piled on top of a lot, anti-minimalist and indulgent, exactly as fans need it to be. But the hypnotic repetition of endless questing, struggling and fleeing somehow doesn't turn it dull. The effect is, instead, satisfying and warm. It's a smell or sound that triggers longing, the same bedtime story told night after night that you never tire of hearing, the blanket you make into a fort, the eating of the biggest bag of potato chips in the world. You're not casual about it, you're committed. And nobody can tell you you're wrong.