Retro Review: The Two Towers

It’s always hardest to do the middle film in a proposed trilogy of films.

The second film is always the maker or breaker of a franchise. In some of the most successful franchises of all time, the second film has gone on to eclipse its predecessor. Examples of these stellar sequels are series like “Aliens”, “Star Trek”, “Star Wars” and even James Bond.

The hurdle that director and Tolkien visionary Peter Jackson had to endure was making a middle film in his epic trilogy that has neither a beginning or ending. It is like filming a middle chapter of an unfinished novel. In some ways that is exactly what it is.

People expecting a recap of “Fellowship” will be disappointed since Jackson dives straight into the story almost with out pause. The story picks up within seconds of where “Fellowship” left off.

The Fellowship has been split. Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) are off to Mordor to deliver the ring into Mount Doom. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) are off to save hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) who have been captured by a troop of Orcs.

In the sequel, we find Frodo and Samwise lost in the Misty Mountains as they find themselves striking up a symbiotic friendship and alliance with the waif, Gollum (Andy Serkis). Gollum was driven insane when he possessed the “ring of power” now all he wants is to reclaim his “precious”. Can this creature be trusted or will this creature be the death of Frodo and Sam?

On the other front of the story, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli track their comrades to the kingdom of Mohan where they find a besieged kingdom that is about to overrun by the armies of the evil Saruman (Christopher Lee). A resurrected Gandalf (Ian McKellan) encourages the trio to join with King Theoden (Bernard Hill) to defend Rohan. Theoden leads his people and the trio to the legendary fortress Helm’s Deep where the final confrontation will be waged. Who will survive this battle? Will the fortress of Helm’s Deep fall? What did happen to Merry and Pippin and how will they figure into this chapter?

“Two Towers” is essentially three stories bridging the gap between the beginning and final confrontation with evil.

Jackson understands the scope of Tolkien’s Middle Earth as he finds a unique look for each of the kingdoms seen in this second Tolkien film. Tolkien and his master craftsmen built the castle of Rohan from scratch and etched out the fortress of Helm’s Deep from the walls of a rock quarry. They are truly amazing structures and Jackson uses them with passion and finesse.

The key performance of this film is the wonderful fully-digital Gollum. For once a computerized character seems to have a soul. The performance of the actor beneath the pixels shines through and he is amazing to watch in every frame. There is some humor in Gollum’s madness as he struggles with his loyalties but it’s the scenes where Gollum reacts and does things on his own that are more remarkable than his obvious psychological struggle. You can’t but feel for this misplaced creature.

I always thought that the first film took way to long to build momentum. I also felt the same about the novel. In the second film, Jackson continues the momentum he built in the third act of Fellowship. There are definitely lulls in a film of this length but Jackson never allows his audience to be bored as he delivers new and exciting things to look at in awe. The shame is that there are a lot of these spectacles that take away from the actors.

I continue to sing Viggo Mortensen’s praises in this film as I did the previous one. I also really started to enjoy John Rhys-Davies performances as Gimli the dwarf. I also have always loved the forever creepy actor Brad Dourif and I am positive there is no one out there who could have been as oozy as Brad was playing Grima Wormtongue. I liked Miranda Otto’s damsel Eowyn but I wish there were more meat in the role for this capable actress.

The biggest fault of this part of the epic trilogy is that it is the middle film. There are a lot of signs where the film could have gotten lost but Jackson stayed his course. I am sure that when we finally see the end of this epic journey the middle film will be looked on as a great bridge. There is a lot to be celebrated in this film but for people who aren’t familiar with the material they will be lost.

4.25 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

Written: December 2002

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