There's nothing like the blue tint in the still above to make one hark back to Two Towers-esque imagery; however, The Desolation of Smaug is its 'own' film entirely, not as metaphorically attached to the LoTR film trilogy as its predecessor was.
Apart from the cursory opening scene in Bree (in which Peter Jackson makes a familiar cameo), The Desolation of Smaug picks off nicely where An Unexpected Journey ended, with Thorin and Co. still headed towards the Lonely Mountain to recover the Arkenstone. With Wargs and orcs hot on their heels, the dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf take refuge at Boern's residence before Gandalf - true to form - ditches them on the outskirts of Mirkwood with the warning, "stay on the path."
...So of course the dwarves lose their way; it is only until Bilbo pokes his head out of the trees (at one of the movie's noteworthy 3D effects scenes) that the path becomes clear; unfortunately, it is also at this point that the dwarves are cocooned by giant spiders and nearly consumed. They are saved by Bilbo - who owes it to the ring, Sting, and courage - and the elves.
Yes, LEGOLAS makes quite the entrée from the treetops, slitting several arachnid bellies en route before landing in front of the dwarves - I swear all his action scenes have been fast-forwarded. Sharp, cold and cutting, this younger Legolas seems to have done more in one film than he did in all three LoTR installations put together, and his very presence emphasizes The Hobbit's dependence on its Academy-Award winning predecessors. Having Benedict Cumberbatch voice Smaug and Ed Sheeran sing the film's song, the producers certainly chose wisely in order to maximize the film's profit - it certainly makes skeptics wonder about Jackson's authentic motives for filming the movie.
But of course, Jackson's decision to film The Hobbit is one for which I am infinitely grateful, for in filming another 9 hours worth of Middle Earthian footage, he takes LoTR fans back into Tolkien's world which is stunningly visualized with the aid of 48 FPS and 3D. Featuring members of the original cast, The Hobbit films are extending the vestiges of LoTR legacy into three new films for the old and new generation.
Thus no matter how irked I may be at the length of screen time the Tauriel-Kili-Legolas love triangle takes up (ah, why water the buds of romance when Kili will perish in the Battle of 5 Armies?), I nonetheless welcome every LoTR morsel with open arms and - let's face it - The Desolation of Smaug was 2.5 hours worth of cinematic epicness.
Whether it is during the barrel scene - whoever choreographed that deserves all the best things in life - during which the dwarves' teamwork is as fluid as the rushing waters they traverse (apologies for lame simile), or when Bilbo is sliding in mounds of gold after the blinking Arkenstone, or when Thorin and Co. temper Smaug in order to light up the fortresses, The Desolation of Smaug is brilliantly action-packed, grand-scale and impressive. Newcomers such as Luke Evans (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Bloom) and Stephen Fry (yes!) only further embellish the film.
So the Hobbit trilogy will wrap up in a year's time (The Silmarillion, anyone?), but Tolkien's legacy and the wonders of Middle Earth will be grounded forever.
Here is my review for the first movie: http://may-theforcebewithyou.blogspot.hk/2012/12/the-world-is-ahead.html