The Two Towers has always been my favorite installment in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's an incredible accomplishment - it's a popular belief that the middle part of the trilogy is always the weakest. We don't have the fun of being introduced to the world the movie is set in and we already know all the main characters plus it doesn't provide the conclusion the third part does. But for me, The Two Towers is not only (however slight) improvement over The Fellowship of the Ring but it also doesn't feel too long like The Return of the King did in its last 40 minutes.
After the fellowship is split, we follow our characters in three different groups. Merry and Pippin were captured by the orcs and now Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn search for them, while Frodo and Sam continue their quest to Mordor, joined by the conniving Gollum. We also get to see the miraculous return of Gandalf, who after his fight with Balrog became Gandalf the white. Him, Legolas Gimli and Aragorn head for Edoras to join forces with King Theoden against the monstrous army Saruman has created for one purpose - to destroy the world of men.
Even though we follow three groups instead of one, the film never feels disjointed - it's really entertaining because through the characters we get to discover different parts of Middle-earth. The storyline with Merry and Pippin was always the weakes link for me, but their scenes provide some much needed comic relief and less suspenseful moments, especially since the other two main stories are packed with so much excitement. Gollum wants to get his "Precious" back and he is trying to turn Frodo against Sam, while the enormous army created by Saruman threatens the safety of practically every other character in the movie.
What I really loved about the film was how all the new characters were introduced - they may not have a lot of screen time but it's enough to make them memorable because everyone is truly perfectly cast. David Wenham does a very good job playing Boromir's younger brother Faramir whose path crosses with the Ring bearer. Bernard Hill appears as the brave King Theoden and lovely Miranda Otto truly embodies lady Eowyn, who falls for Aragorn. Fun fact - On Miranda Otto's first day of shooting, Liv Tyler was said to have welcomed her with enthusiastic open arms, saying, "I'm so glad there's another woman in this film!". Even actors know what a sausage fest it is, but still comparing to The Hobbit this is freaking infested with chicks.
We also get to see those who aren't the part of quest - there is brief appearance by Cate Blanchett in which she tells Elrond about how the quest is proceeding - it was an ingenious move on Jackson's part to add that little scene because it explains things to the audience and we still get to see Galadriel. My favorite moments from supporting characters, though, include Liv Tyler's Arwen - the character that was absent in the book. Arwen remains in Rivendell, hoping Aragorn will be victorious in the war that is destroying Middle-earth. There is one unforgettably beautiful scene where Elrond predicts her future. I never understood why Liv Tyler is getting so much hate for her performance. I thought she did a wonderful job capturing the ethereally beautiful and kind Arwen, especially in her scenes with Viggo Mortensen.
The words " love triangle" fell into disarray because of Twilight, but it's very well done in The Two Towers. Aragorn loves Arwen but he wants her to be happy and he is convinced she would be better off staying with her people. He meets Eowyn who is immediately taken with him. There are many lovely scenes where Aragorn remembers Arwen - what I particularly loved about how all of this is handled was that even though Aragorn cares for Eowyn, he never feels the love so great as he has for Arwen - the look on his face when Legolas returns Evenstar necklace to him is so beautiful and moving.
Still, he never comes off as - for the lack of the better word- a douche bag - to Eowyn, whom he respects greatly. There is this really sweet scene in extended version where she cooks him the stew which is just disgusting but he keeps eating it because he doesn't want to hurt her feelings. The film is filled with all of those beautiful moments that every epic movie needs (the lack of which really weakened the Hobbit for me) - the hero is fighting not only for the common men, he is fighting for his love. Some of the scenes are directed so beautifully they are simply unforgettable. Jackson can hint tremendous feelings Eowyn has and Aragorn's care for her in mere seconds - like when just before he goes to fight with the Wargs he turns around on his horse just to catch the - possibly - last glimpse of her.
The storyline with Aragorn and Helm's Deep battle was definitely my favorite, probably because I found the characters in it the most interesting. The battle of Helm's Deep is honestly one of the most epic things I've seen - to this day I remember the cinema was practically shaking during some of the moments there. I love the trilogy because not only is it incredibly moving and done with so much splendor - the heroism in these films never feels cheesy - instead it's incredibly admirable and moving. When we see the battle and the bravery of men - 300 against 10,000 uruk hai - your heart truly trembles.
Sure, there are some unintentionally hilarious moments but it only makes the films - especially this one - more fun. Legolas's crazy jump on the horse before they fight the Wargs. Legolas using a shield as a snowboard. And my personal favorite - the Olympic torch run by one of the Uruk Hai to the bomb created by Saruman which explodes creating the breach. It made for an amazingly epic moment but it was hilarious to watch. However without it we wouldn't get Aragorn's charge scene, so I'm still happy that it happened.
The Two Towers marks the first proper appearance of Gollum - we caught few glimpses of him in the first movie but this time we see a lot of him. The Gollum that is briefly glimpsed in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is an entirely different creation than the one that appears in this film. It was during the filming of the second movie that Peter Jackson realized that Andy Serkis'
physical performance would have to be employed in the digital creation
of Gollum. Weta Digital had to alter the design, scanning Serkis' face so that they would be able to incorporate some of his facial characteristics. The result is astonishing.
Gollum is the key character in the trilogy. He is also the most tragic character - completely destroyed and consumed by the power of the ring. While I don't feel Andy Serkis deserves so much praise (Peter Jackson and producer Barrie M. Osborne actively campaigned for Serkis
to receive an Oscar nomination. Academy regulations, however, forbid an actor to be
nominated when he is not physically to be seen on screen, despite
Serkis' active input into the role), I thought what was achieved here was groundbreaking. Gollum really feels real, though his movements here compared to those in the Hobbit look a little fake (no wonder -we are talking about decade long gap in CGI).Serkis definitely did a very good job representing the two natures of his character and the ending of the film was just fantastic - because of how sinister Gollum was it really left us waiting for the final part.
Yet again, as with The Fellowship of the Ring, I felt the best performances were delivered by Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin and Ian McKellen. The more trivia I read about these films the more I'm shocked Mortensen actually made it out alive - he broke two toes in the scene where Aragorn kicks the helmet (and he kept acting). He also broke a
tooth during the shoot. He immediately wanted to continue filming and
requested super glue to reattach the broken tooth so he could use the
pain for his character. And finally - he nearly drowned during the scene where Aragorn floats in the river. And here we were thinking DiCaprio keeping going with a little blood on his hand was impressive.
Anyways, breaking bones and injuries aside, Mortensen really makes his Aragorn real - he brought him to life from the pages of the book. He is a rare hero - flawless hero, who never feels boring. I never had any trouble believing in the fact that all those people would follow him, even to sure death. When Miranda Otto met Viggo Mortensen, she commented about her character falling in love with his: "It's going to be SO easy to fall in love with this man!".
Astin's performance as Sam has been beautiful and moving since The Fellowship and it continues being those things here. And thank God for it because for the most part of this movie Frodo was kinda useless. McKellen is fantastic as Gandalf again - this time his character is less human and more mystical, but he still remains caring and friendly to those around him. His first appearance in the film is brilliantly made and intentionally confusing - Christopher Lee's eyes were digitally placed into the face of Ian McKellen and the voices of both actors were mixed
I could go and on about how amazingly well made the movie is. but the one thing I will mention is Howard Shore's splendid musical score. It really adds so much to the movie especially in several epic moments. Gandalf and Rohirrims riding on the Uruk Hai, the victory in the battle and the fight with the Wargs - those moments wouldn't be as powerful without the music. It's beautiful in subtle scenes too, especially during the scene when Aragorn and Arwen are shown in Rivendell together.
The Two Towers, as two other movies, is a true labor of love. When Frodo and Sam
are in Osgiliath, Sam says, "By rights, we shouldn't even be here."
This was a nod to the deviation the screenplay had taken from the book's
storyline. In the book, Sam and Frodo never passed through Osgiliath at
all. Despite all the changes the film never feels like it missed something or that things were misinterpreted - the spirit of friendship and bravery is still strong, still astonishing. It's one of the most epic films I've seen and one that surely doesn't fall victim to "the second part is the worst" curse.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002, 179 min, extended - 214 min)
Plot: While Frodo and Sam edge closer to Mordor with the help of the shifty Gollum, the divided fellowship makes a stand against Sauron's new ally, Saruman, and his hordes of Isengard.
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: J.R.R. Tolkien (novel), Fran Walsh (screenplay)
Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen and Viggo Mortensen
(I normally don't add trailers, but this is my second all-time favorite trailer:)