Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 59 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Epic Battle Sequences and Scary Images
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair & Peter Jackson
(based on the novel THE TWO TOWERS by J.R.R. Tolkien)
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Christopher Lee, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Brad Dourif & Karl Urban
FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING may have introduced audiences to the incredible cinematic take on Middle Earth, but it did have a couple of shortcomings. TWO TOWERS more than makes up for those flaws in a middle chapter that’s far more exciting, interesting and action-packed than its predecessor. While FELLOWSHIP was focused on characters and kicking off the quest, TWO TOWERS hones in one the battles and war springing to life around the one ring to rule them all. This second installment in the RINGS trilogy is also darker than the rest of the other Middle Earth saga.
Picking up shortly after the conclusion of FELLOWSHIP, Frodo and his trusty companion Sam are continuing on their journey towards Mount Doom. They’re lost when they encounter the ring’s former owner Gollum. Though he appears to have a nasty streak to him, Frodo decides to trust the insane and gauntly Gollum as a guide, which may lead the two hobbits into even further danger. Meanwhile, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli (aided by a familiar face thought lost) try to save the people of Rohan (one of the few remaining kingdoms of men) from Sauron’s rising orc army. This climaxes in a huge battle to protect the confined fortress of Helm’s Deep. While all this is going on, the comic relief from the previous film, Merry and Pippin, try to provide further aid with an ent (living tree) leader named Treebeard. All of these three plots are interwoven throughout each other and provide a stellar fantasy epic that far outweighs anything seen in FELLOWSHIP or THE HOBBIT trilogy.
The main advantage that TWO TOWERS obviously has is that the main character introductions are over and done. This frees up the story to center more around the actual warfare and how the forces of good are trying to turn the tide against the forces of evil. TOWER’s slightly optimistic ending comes after a whole lot of darkness. Most of the threats (whether they’re ring wraiths riding on winged creatures, fellowmen, or cursed locations themselves) are the creepiest things that this trilogy has to offer. One of these villains comes in the welcome presence of Brad Dourif as the slimy toadie of Sauron, Grima Wormtongue. Another danger comes in the form of one of the scariest locations in LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. This would be the Dead Marshes (that Frodo and Sam are forced to cross in the first third) littered with the drowned corpses of unlucky men and an eerie atmosphere that still gives me goosebumps multiple viewings later.
New creatures are highly enjoyable too. There are more orcs and Uruk-hai (a stronger breed of orc) this time around, but the addition of the ents are very cool. These tree giants can look a little too over-the-top at times, but they (Treebeard, especially) have a huge part to play before the movie is over. The biggest accomplishment that TWO TOWERS offers is in the iconic character of Gollum. Through a motion-capture performance from Andy Serkis (who later went on to play Cesar in the new PLANET OF THE APES series) and amazing computer animation that holds up extremely well, this schizophrenic skin-and-bones character is the stand-out of the film. He provides most of the comic relief to be had, but that never lessens his fragile emotional state to the viewer and he’s always a tad creepy. What’s better is that there is a side of him that will warrant sympathy from many viewers (myself included), so he’s a complex character who hovers between good and evil in this film. However, one cryptic bit of dialogue near the end (where Gollum mentions a mysterious “her”) makes the viewer immediately curious to see what’s in store in the final film. After first watching the film in theaters back in 2002, I mercilessly bugged one friend, who had read the books, to reveal who or what the “she” Gollum spoke about was.
The battles are fantastically structured with a stellar scene in the opening of Pippin and Merry escaping from the orcs. This is only one of many great action-packed moments. Another in a field of orc riders (orcs on the top of massive wolf-like beasts) is also phenomenally well-done. Then there’s the climax being the Battle at Helm’s Deep. Considered to be one of the absolute best on-screen battles of all-time by many, this almost hour-long conflict doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. Creative steps are taken to keep things interesting without ever becoming absurd or too clichéd. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli do seem to be invincible, which doesn’t offer much suspense for their well-fare. This being said, plenty of other bodies pile up and it’s awesome to behold.
In lesser hands, TWO TOWERS may have suffered from feeling like the middle piece of a larger story. Instead, it’s an excellent fantasy epic that guides the viewer through the more dangerous areas of Middle Earth with a likable group of heroes. The mixing of three different plotlines are perfectly paced to ensure that the viewer’s attention is never focused on one more than the other and never gets bored. Gollum is the stand-out of the film, but everything else is phenomenal as well. THE TWO TOWERS might be my favorite Middle Earth movie (that decision will be determined by my re-watch of RETURN OF THE KING).