Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The (2002)
Release Date: December 18th, 2002 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Peter Jackson Actors: Elijah Wood, Brad Dourif, Bernard Hill, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Sean Astin, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen, Dominic Monaghan, Viggo Mortensen, John Rhys-Davies, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Billy Boyd, Miranda Otto, Olivia Tennet, Karl Urban, David Wenham
t begins with a flashback to one of the most pivotal scenes in the first film – elaborating on the apparent demise of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) the wizard, as he fought off the deathly advances of a fiery demon in the underground dwarf mine graveyard. Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and his faithful hobbit companion Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin) continue their perilous, protracted journey to Mordor, where they hope to destroy a powerful ring that threatens to empower the villainous sorcerer Saruman (Christopher Lee). In turn, Saruman plots to resurrect the ancient evil of the dark lord Sauron, whose spiritual entity resides within the golden halo, hellbent on conquering Middle Earth.
Pursuing a band of cannibalistic orcs that have captured two additional hobbits, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), are the remnants of the fellowship of the ring: the elf Legolas Greenleaf (Orlando Bloom), the human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), and the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies). Meanwhile, as Saruman’s armies cut a swathe of death and destruction through the peaceful countryside, several human soldiers of the kingdom of Rohan are marked as traitors and banished from the realm. Eomer (Karl Urban), their leader, commands a slaughter of the orcs, further displacing Merry and Pippin, who escape into the woods only to encounter the chief shepherd of the forest, a branch and leaf-covered giant called Treebeard. As the human population dwindles under Saruman’s massacres, survivors flock to Helm’s Deep, a stronghold of 300 warriors that appears hopelessly outnumbered by the army of more than 10,000 barbarian troops marching to annihilate the fortress.
This immediate sequel to the hugely successful “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings” ups the ante on special effects, featuring outstanding computer animation of the Gollum character, which was only briefly glimpsed in the first film. His bodily movements, facial contractions, and split-personality voice-work are greatly attributable to actor Andy Serkis and his motion-capture expertise. Treebird is equally impressive, along with his throng of Ents, as well as the extra footage of the Balrog and Nazgul dragons. Once again, the orc and goblin makeup effects and costuming are sublimely realized; sets and props also continue to contribute to the overall visual appeal. Unfortunately, the stunts are slightly more reliable on CG, too, causing them to be less rousing and convincing.
The hobbits remain clumsy, recklessly impulsive, and now at odds with one another, creating their own additional dilemmas, while numerous other haphazardly crafted circumstances prolong the penetration of Mordor’s walls. The inclusion of King Theoden (Bernard Hill) of Rohan, the death of his son, the evacuation of his city, and the demonic possession of his soul offer little to strengthen or deepen the persevering main characters. Correspondingly, the supporting role of servant Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) is the least inspiring sub-villain in the series, designed without the usual subtlety of evildoers who have yet to reveal their misdeeds. Instead, he’s so clearly monstrous that his feigned allegiance borders on insulting to the audience (his name is similarly ridiculous). Arwen’s (Liv Tyler) later pilgrimage away from Rivendell also drags.
Without an explanation of the afterlife or the beliefs surrounding it, save for a hinting at a god or gods governing Gandalf’s reappearance, the winning return of the unclearly powerful wizard appears as yet another contrived plot point. It’s one of several that spring up during this middle chapter of the trilogy, which already feels weighty with the slow progression of the story. And flashbacks are even more prevalent than in the previous movie, designating a signature narrative technique director Peter Jackson favors throughout the series. But the climactic battle of Helm’s Deep – though it still leaves much to be resolved for the final part – is a breathtakingly colossal skirmish in the rain and mud and fog, of nearly indescribable magnitude, involving hundreds of extras and stunning action choreography, which takes place concurrently with the comparably epic, redemptive storming of Saruman’s tower.
– Mike Massie