Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Walking out of the theater a year ago, I wondered how Peter Jackson would ever be able to top such a massive undertaking... and such a wonderful success. I never should have doubted him. He has taken the second, and arguably the most difficult book to film, and made it into a masterpiece. The Fellowship of the Ring was the starting point; it merely laid the framework for what was to come. The saga continues in the quest to destroy the One Ring, capable of wielding the greatest power in Middle-earth. Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) journey into Mordor, lost and alone, little knowing they are being followed by the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis), former owner of the ring, whose desire for it has consumed him, turning him into a pathetic, pitiful wretch capable of great treachery. When Gollum is apprehended attempting to steal "the precious," Sam wants to tie him up and leave him to die, but Frodo desires to save him.
Warily they make Gollum their guide, to lead them to Mordor. Tormented by the seductive powers of the ring, each step that bears them toward their destination proves painful for Frodo, as the ring grows heavier. His torment is a mere reflection of that which his friends Merry and Pippin (Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd) face, born with a band of uruk-hai bound for Orthanc. Merry is badly wounded and almost unconscious. Their captors travel at great speed, knowing they are followed by Aragorn (Viggo Mortenson), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies). To reach Isengard they must cross the fields of Rohan, which belongs to the kingdom of men. The orcs are set on by Riders of Rohan and slain in great numbers. Aragorn fears the worst -- the hobbits' bodies have been burned with the rest. But Merry and Pippin are alive and well. They have journeyed into the ancient wood of Faragorn and discovered the lair of Treebeard, one of the fabled Ents, created as a guardian for the wood.
Aragorn and the others track them with great urgency but they are waylaid by an unexpected friend. It is Gandalf (Ian McKellen)! Having battled with and ultimately destroyed the Balrog on the mountain peak, he passed into death but his task is not yet complete and he has been sent back to Middle-earth to continue the battle against the evil Dark Lord. The warfront stretches from the threshold of Mordor into the kingdom of Rohan, where dwells another cast of characters in this epic tale. From the treacherous lips of Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), a spy of Saruman, to the spirited owyn (Miranda Otto), niece to the King and a Shieldmaiden (warrior-girl), the battle for Middle-earth has only just begun. Rejoining this new cast are known faces from the first film... the immortal elf Arwen (Liv Tyler), and her undying love for Aragorn, Haldir (Craig Parker), a Guardian from Lrien sent by Elrond (Hugo Weaving) to reunite the Alliance of Elves and men, and even Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) herself.
Once again Peter Jackson has taken us to new heights in a fantastic epic of good verses evil. The first film merely laid the groundwork for the story; the second carries us along at a frantic pace as we follow several interchanging storylines. Action scenes are beautifully interspersed with the journey of Merry and Pippin, the story of Gollum leading his new "master" toward Mordor, and even Arwen's struggle to defy her father's wishes and remain loyal to Aragorn rather than sailing with her people to the immortal lands. The cinematography is dazzling. The dialogue is poetic and memorable. The characters are fascinating. This, folks, is the stuff movies are made of. No other films in history will ever surpass the magnificence of The Lord of the Rings. It's not merely the fantastic direction by Peter Jackson, but the driving force behind the tale -- Tolkien himself. Though significant changes have been made to his work, the truth of his symbolism still gleams through for a new generation to discover and embrace.
My only concerns are two things: parents will foolishly take younger children, and those unfamiliar with the general story itself will have a hard time keeping up with the frantic pace. The first I impress strongly: this film, while keeping in a PG13 rating, is extremely violent. Orcs are decapitated and hundreds fall under a folly of arrows in a siege against a mountain barricade. They are stabbed with swords, spears, and shields. One uruk-hai slices the head off another and invites his companions to feast on the body. A semi-main character is killed in battle with a blade to the back. Gollum brings Frodo two dead rabbits and in arguably the most revolting shot in the film, snaps one's spine and starts tearing at the raw flesh. Men and Elves are slain in battle. Horses fall as they are attacked by Wargs, giant hyena-like creatures with long fangs. Other things which will frighten children involve an exorcism, when Gandalf casts the spirit of Saruman out of a mortal king, and the Dead Marches, a bog through which Frodo and Sam are forced to walk where bloated dead faces can be seen under the water. (SPOILER: Frodo ignores Gollum's warning to "stay away from the lights" and is drawn into the water, where he is surrounded by ghostly phantoms attempting to drag him to his death. END OF SPOILER.) Gollum has many discussions with "himself" in which his split personality argues about whether or not to kill the hobbits. The intensity of these emotional struggles within him will give rise to some serious conversations, particularly among the lower age groups. To put it bluntly, this film isn't for anyone under a mature fourteen.
But beyond the violence lingers the light. And what a light it is! Profound parallels of theology and spiritual issues abounded in the first film; here they are even more emphasized, particularly in part to one of Middle-earth's "Christ-figures," Gandalf. After battling to the death with a Balrog, he rises from the dead and returns to a position higher than he first began with. This bears all the resemblance of Jesus' death, triumph over Satan, and rebirth into a more powerful being. Then too are Gandalf's own words: "I will come in the dawn. Look toward the east." When all hope seems lost, the battle all but foregone, Gandalf appears with the rising sun in the East to lead an army down to triumph. It's Middle-earth's variation of the second coming. The film is darker than the first but the message is one of eternal hope. To Arwen, torn between the wishes of her father and the loyalties of her heart, "there is still hope" of Aragorn's return. This same hope carries into the minds of the hobbits as they forge into darkness, and the remaining Fellowship members as they look toward the rising sun. The film is gorgeous to behold, a radiant contrast between the breathtaking landscape of Rivendell and the gritty realism of the battle of Helm's Deep. In the darkness and rain, against insurmountable odds, Aragorn professes the same hope. Whether it be through the humorous antics of Gimli the Dwarf, or in Sam's faithful servitude to Frodo, The Two Towers carries the same powerful impact as the first film: an epic battle between good and evil. And we all know who will win in the end.