Frodo and Sam are trekking to Mordor to destroy the One Ring of Power while Gimli, Legolas and Aragorn search for the orc-captured Merry and Pippin. All along, nefarious wizard Saruman awaits the Fellowship members at the Orthanc Tower in Isengard.
Peter Jackson has always maintained that The Two Towers is "the second act" of his epic undertaking, and perhaps the true greatness of the middle chapter will only be clear when viewed in context. As a stand-alone film, however, The Two Towers is not quite as good as Fellowship. (Nor, indeed, does it extend the universe or deepen the relationships in the manner of The Empire Strikes Back.) That it still merits the full five stars is merely an indication of how high the benchmark has been set.
Picking up pretty much where Fellowship left off, this is a considerably darker film, with Frodo (Wood) falling further under the influence of the Ring (giving rise to some seriously spooky hallucinations), while Saruman (Christopher Lee) wreaks even more havoc. There's also the first appearance of Saruman's spy, the sinister Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), and the complex Gollum, a brilliant combination of computer trickery and raspy vocals from Andy Serkis (the campaign for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar starts here).
Other newcomers include Faramir (David Wenham), the understandably miffed brother of the recently deceased Boromir, and Éowyn (Miranda Otto), who spends much of her time casting winsome glances in the general direction of Aragorn (Mortensen). Eventually the plot complexities become more coherent, setting the action up for the forthcoming finale, The Return Of The King.
As we've come to expect, this is spectacular stuff - from an opening which sees Frodo troubled by dreams about the demise of Gandalf, through to the climactic Battle Of Helm's Deep, which is nothing short of breathtaking. But Jackson cleverly tempers the louder, brasher sequences with some heartstring-tugging moments - peasants despondent as they are forced to abandon their villages, Aragorn and Arwen's troubled relationship, and, of course, the return of Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen, superb as ever), one of the film's most powerful, memorable images that may well leave Ring devotees a little misty-eyed.
However, those who still believe that the trilogy is beyond criticism may find their views challenged by The Two Towers. It's just as long as the first film, but gets the heroes no closer to a final victory. And, where the first movie developed its emotional tone from the brightness of The Shire to a darker climax, the sequel is more of a one-note affair, shadowy in both look and content.
This is particularly true of the Ringbearer's quest, which adds the not-insignifcant Gollum to the party, but suffers more than the other story strands from the cross-cutting and finishes with a nearly identical pep talk from Sam to the tearful speech that climaxed Fellowship. Of course, given the nature of the material, and Jackson's desire to be faithful, this is all understandable. And by the time we all end up under siege at Helm's Deep, it's unlikely anyone will give a toss about narrative arcs: like Gollum, this is simply gob-smacking, mind-blowing, never-seen-before stuff.
Verdict - It may lack the first-view-thrill and natural dramatic shape of Fellowship, but this is both funnier and darker than the first film, and certainly more action-packed. An essential component of what is now destined to be among the best film franchises of all time.
- Caroline Westbrook, Empire Magazine
That Damned Ring.
RELEASED IN 2002 and directed by Peter Jackson, “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” adapts the second part of JRR Tolkien’s popular fantasy trilogy about adventures on Middle-Earth. The surviving ‘Fellowship’ of the first film has been divided into three small groups for this one: The Hobbits Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin) team-up with the mad Gollum (Andy Serkis) to make their way to Mordor, but are captured by Faramir (David Wenham), the brother of the deceased Boromir. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas the Elf (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli the Dwarf (John Rhys-Davies) encounter the once-great King Theoden (Bernard Hill), who has fallen under the spell of Saruman (Christopher Lee) via his devious minion Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif). Meanwhile the Hobbits Pippin and Merry (Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan) try to enlist the help of huge tree creatures. Gandalf is also on hand (Ian McKellen). These story threads culminate in the great Battle at Helms Deep in the third hour.
This three-hour fantasy/adventure starts out more engaging than the first film, which was laden by its overlong, convoluted and (for the most part) unnecessary prologue. Like that movie, the characters are colorful, the tale is imaginative, there’s a lot of brutal action rounded out by quieter moments and everything LOOKS and SOUNDS great. Unfortunately, after the first act, Jackson opts for CGI porn (excessive use of CGI with the corresponding dizzying visual effects). The first film did this too, but this one ups the ante and so there’s not as much spectacular New Zealand cinematography (i.e. real forests, mountains, rivers, etc.). If cartoony CGI is your thang then you’ll likely appreciate this installment more than me.
There are other problems: While the characters are imaginative, they’re also shallow and rather dull, at least for mature people who require more depth to maintain their interest. Also, the wide-spanning (meandering) story with numerous characters and hard-to-remember names tends to be disengaging. I was never much captivated by the characters and their causes, although uber-fans of Tolkien might be.
Another problem is the lack of prominent female protagonists. We have Miranda Otto as Éowyn, Théoden's niece, who falls in love with the noble Aragorn and that’s about it, except for cameos by Liv Tyler as Arwen and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel. “Mythica: A Quest for Heroes” (2014) cost LESS THAN $100,000 to make, which is a mere fraction of the $94 million it cost to make this blockbuster and the filmmakers knew enough to include a couple of prominent babes as key protagonists in the story.
Despite these negatives, “The Two Towers” was an ultra-ambitious undertaking and is a must for fantasy/adventure aficionados who liked the first movie.
THE MOVIE RUNS 2 hours 59 minutes and was shot in New Zealand.