Updated: Dec 23, 2019
I think the real problem with The Hobbit movies stems (yet again) from the decision to expand two three-hour films into three, three-hour films. While the creative team says this was their choice, there is much evidence to the contrary––evidence that they were, in fact, forced to expand by studio execs.
From what I have been able to tell, this "expansion" consisted of 1) the addition of the love-triangle (Tauriel was in the original script), 2) much of Legolas's story arc (again, originally a cameo, like it should have been), 3) Thorin's confrontation with Azog in the forest (which just so happens to be one of my favorite scenes in the entire trilogy), 4) the majority of the framework (pretty sure Frodo wasn't in the original script), and 5) the addition of Azog's son, Bolg, among other things.
The Negative Elements
Once again, the move from two to three films introduced a boatload of elements that some would undoubtedly consider “unnecessary.” Below, I list what I believe were the most unnecessary of these.
1) FRODO: I would brand this inclusion as “fan service,” or “homage,” or whatever you want to call it…the point is, it was unwarranted and didn’t do anything at all to further or deepen the plot. It might have worked and been appreciated more had the first film been a bit shorter, but let’s face it: Middle-earth flicks ain’t never short.
2) LEGOLAS??: I think many would concur that to preserve continuity between both trilogies (not to mention aligning itself with the novels), it only makes sense to include Legolas. However, this happens to be a case where I hold creative differences in regards to the filmmakers. Legolas should have been present, but he shouldn’t have been a key player in the story main. At the very most, he should have been a cameo. The decision to include his character to the extent that it was, only served to detract from the story of Bilbo and the Dwarves.
In all likelihood, that was very likely the role he was originally intended to have before the expansion. That “expansion” ended up serving us the love triangle (no thanks), father-son conflict (could’ve worked if more effort had been put into it), and all that ‘Legolas-ness’ we were served up. Instead, the focus should have been on the Dwarves, not Legolas doing, well, whatever he was doing.
I’m not referring to that at all. Nope.
3) THE SCENE WITH THE STONE-GIANTS (and yes, that was in the book) could've maybe used some trimming, or at least could've been tied into the story better. It made for a mostly gratuitous action scene––though props to it for contributing something meaningful to the plot.
4) THE LOVE TRIANGLE: Personally, I didn't hate it as so many people seemed to. (Don’t @ me.) However...it didn't really serve the plot and ended up being yet another added element that detracted from the primary character arcs. The story could have been better served by cutting Legolas out and focusing instead on Kíli and Tauriel's relationship (which, by the way, happened to be a positive element––we'll get to that in a minute).
The Positive Elements
1) GOLD ISN'T THE GOAL: The inclusion from Sauron actually helped the story and tied it into its predecessor better than anything else could have. While the theatrical version merely hinted at the "masterplan," to take the Lonely Mountain, the extended editions fleshed this out to a much greater degree, and this reveal served to enhance the story for the better. I am, of course, referring to the disclosure that Smaug, following Sauron's orders, ravaged and took Erebor for his own. Sauron then planned on seizing it once he had regained his full strength and using its strategic position to attack Rivendell, the Shire, and many of the free lands to the west of Middle-earth.
With this reveal, all of a sudden, the stakes have been raised. The object of the quest, and the Mountain becomes of greater interest to the story as a whole. Smaug's motives suddenly have a different meaning. The quest becomes much more vital. Also, this plot point better ties it in with Rings and makes the story seem "necessary."
2) BARD IS A PERSON: Much-needed character development was added to Bard's character, without changing the spirit of the book-version. This turned out to be a definite highlight of the trilogy.
3) KÍLI & TAURIEL: You may hate me for saying this, but I would argue the addition of Tauriel and her relationship with Kíli was one of the more positive adds to the trilogy. For one, it added some real, much-needed emotional depth to the story that was otherwise lacking, and two, it served to accentuate and pronounce the conflict between the Elves and Dwarves to a better degree. The "Feast of Starlight" scene was also beautifully-scripted and showed deeper insight into the Elves' culture. Sadly, her relationship with Kíli wasn't helped by the later decision to include the dreaded love triangle.
Take it from a verified Tolkien nut. I stake my claim.
What It Really Comes Down To
We can discuss many different aspects of this all we want, but at the end of the day, what this comes down is one's personal preference. I could make the case that those who love Rings and then get mad about Tauriel or Azog's inclusion have no ground upon which to stand because Rings is guilty of doing the same. Those selfsame detractors could then subsequently argue that Jackson and his team allowed their love for Middle-earth to cloud their judgement, thus resulting in an abundance of unnecessary padding.
And as for those, however, who didn't like Rings...well, it's just natural to accept that they aren't going to love The Hobbit movies either.
And there is nothing wrong with that.
Rings was exemplary in that it managed to preserve much of Tolkien's original intent––however, that doesn't mean everyone has to like it. There are DC fans who despise good Marvel movies and Marvel fans who loathe good DC movies. As we've seen exemplified in the late Star Wars trilogy, the critics may love/hate a film, while the fandom thinks the exact opposite. People are different, and no one person is the same. Again, it all comes down to personal opinion.
The reason why I enjoy watching them so much, despite the aforementioned flaws, is because of 1) the acting, 2) the marvelous & visually-arresting set pieces, 3) the director's approach to shooting scenes, and 4) the (of course) legendary score by Howard Shore.
For myself, those things make them perfectly enjoyable to watch.
However, that's just myself.