Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002) Film Review
Less direct and coherent than its predecessor, but wider in scope, Jackson/Tolkein's difficult second movie just about manages to get away with it all, and there are times when it provides a rollicking good adventure. I would recommend that the parents of young children go to see it themselves before escorting their offspring, as it is extremely violent and gruesome in places, echoing the director's earlier work, and there are moments which are genuinely scary (a rare thing in fantasy cinema). The darker story is somehow more satisfying, however, as we're now dealing with characters who begin to understand what they're about, instead of being frustratingly, albeit charmingly, delusional; so we can tackle the issues of war and conquest head on. Here are the battles only hinted at in the first film. Here is action where before there was only angst. Here is Peter Jackson in his element, vigorous and inventive, grabbing one's attention and holding onto it through long, complex scenes of conflict. There are brilliantly visualised war machines, intriguing tactical manouvers, blood and gore, Flynn-style fighting from the ballet-trained Orlando Bloom (as Legolas), and properly disgusting, bloodthirsty uruk-hai.
Despite all this, much of the tweeness of the first story still lingers, most notably in the tale of Merry and Pippin, whose forest adventures do drag, slowing everything down, though this may satisfy those who insist that the greatest virtue such a movie might have is faithfulness to its source. Clever photography provides cinematic references to the work of HG Wells, both in the recurring comparison of the uruk-hai to morlocks (who are not treated altogether without sympathy), and in the demonstration of evil industry destroyed by natural forces. This latter part is a bit heavy-handed, a legacy of a cruder political age, when the First World War on which so much of Tolkein's fable is based helped to give birth to the New Age movement, but Jackson deftly steers away from the absolute condemnation of technological progress which has become a staple of modern fantasy. The real frustration at this point is simply that Christopher Lee (as Saurman) really doesn't get enough to do.
The stand-out performances in this film come (once again) from Elijah Wood as the increasingly troubled Frodo, and from the computer-animated Gollum, whose pathetic split-personality soliloquies manage to be at once ridiculous, pitiful, and sinister. The interplay of these two characters presents an unusually astute study of the mechanics of addiction, and has the sort of real-world relevance which all really good fantasy strives to accomplish. Although Frodo and Gollum (and Sam, travelling with them) don't actually do very much, they remain fascinating to watch.
Perhaps the greatest weakness of this story is that, aside from those final battles, nobody really does very much, at least not in comparison to the amount of soul-searching, strategic meandering and general arsing about. It's hard to care about a king as useless as Theoden, despite effective borrowings from Lear. Wormtongue comes across as altogether too crude and obvious to be disturbing. Eowyn's fight to be allowed to fight as she is able is affecting, but sidelined; and Aragorn's angst about his love for Arwen (with Liv Tyler still more wooden than the ents) gets tediously drippy, despite some beautiful gothic photography. The New Zealand landscape is still stunning, but less exciting this time. Sauron somehow doesn't seem as mighty as he should.
If I go to see this film a second time, I shall take a (different) book, because there are passages within it which really are dull; but there are also parts which I rather think I might enjoy watching hundreds of times. The bittiness of the whole can be forgiven on account of their brilliance. The wargs are well realised and really scary, it's exciting to see Gandalf reveal how capable he really is, and the growing rapport between Gimli and Legolas makes it easier to care about these disparate characters. The set piece involving the flood is one of the most impressive uses of special effects I've ever seen, a really hard thing to get right, and it sweeps one away. The nazghul remain intensely creepy. Frodo's fall is heartbreaking. And, of course, Gollum gets the last word. This film is not altogether satisfying, but you'd be an idiot to miss it.Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2007