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The middle film in a trilogy can be a risky venture. The first film? Audiences are introduced to new characters and exciting possibilities. The final film? Hollywood pulls out all the stops to send those characters off with a bang. The middle? Well, directors often save their best tricks for the finale.

Every now and then a middle film can buck that trend, though: “The Godfather: Part 2,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” all held their own when audiences came back for a second round. It’s too early to say how “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” will be judged once Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy is completed, but for the most part, the reviews for this sequel have improved considerably on those of its predecessor, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012).

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