WHAT TWO TOWERS?
Minas Morgul, the watchtower guarding the entrance to Mordor, home to the unspeakable evil of Sauron, and Orthanc, the citadel of devious wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) and his armies of Uruk-hai, which he's about to unleash upon Rohan.
A land north of Gondor also populated by men and precariously positioned between Orthanc and Mordor. Also referred to as the Mark, it has a King in Théoden (Bernard Hill), but he has unfortunately been morally and physically belittled by the devious manipulations of his corrupted servant Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), to the great dismay of warrior Éomer (Karl Urban) and would-go-to-war-too-if-she-wasn't-a-woman Éowyn (Miranda Otto).
THÉODEN? ÉOMER? ÉOWYN? WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO THE FELLOWSHIP?
It failed, basically. If you'll remember, at the end of the first film Boromir died trying to save Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), unsuccessfully. The two hobbits were captured by a horde of Uruk-hai, who have now set on to bring them to Saruman. King-moonlighting-as-Ranger Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) are tracking the Uruk-hai in hope of retrieving their little friends alive and "unspoiled", but an encounter with Gandalf the White (Ian McKellen) will inspire them to go fight with the Riders of Rohan. Meanwhile, ring-bearer Frodo (Elijah Wood) and loyal friend Samwise (Sean Astin) have entered the Dead Marshes outside of Mordor, determined to throw the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, the only place where it can be unmade.
BACK UP, MAN, DID YOU SAY GANDALF? ISN'T HE DEAD?
Well, sort of. When he fell in the abyss below Dulin's Bridge with the Balrog, he burned, drowned and even wandered "out of thought and time". Yet eventually he came back, bigger, brighter and bolder, not Grey but White, like Saruman had he not turned to evil.
HUH. SO, ARE THERE ANY OTHER COOL NEW CHARACTERS?
You bet! I've long thought the short scene with the badass talking tree was the coolest thing in "The Wizard of Oz". Well here you get not one but a whole forest of badass talking trees, aka Ents, led by the wise, ancient Treebeard, a marvel of special effects voiced by Rhys-Davies. And then there's Gollum, whom we caught a glimpse of in "Fellowship". The weird little creature used to be the good Sméagol before it found the Ring and grew desperately addicted to it. Gollum is a fascinatingly ambiguous character, torn in a schizophrenic love-hate relationship with the Ring, a habit he wants to kick but can't, like a junkie. Gollum is also a technical wonder, voiced and embodied by Andy Serkis on set before being replaced digitally by what Peter Jackson accurately calls "the first CG character who gives a dramatic performance". In fact, the scene where his good and evil sides argue is one of the best "actor's moments" I've seen all year!
NEAT! SO, IS JACKON'S DIRECTION AS BREATHTAKING AS IN THE FIRST FLICK?
Of course it is! One thing that's different here than with other series is that all three films were created through the same 15 month shoot (followed by years of post-production). So from beginning to end we'll be seeing the work of the same brilliant team of writers, production designers, FX artists and so on. To go back to your question, "The Two Towers" is not only as good as Fellowship of the Ring
, it's better! While it necessarily lacks the intimacy of the first film, on virtually every level it's superior. Beside the aforementioned cool new characters, "The Two Towers" (like "The Empire Strikes Back" before it) benefits from being the middle episode of a trilogy. The world of Middle-Earth and the main characters have been established already so we can jump right into the action and drama, and there's still room for a bleak, open-ended finale, as it's the last film which will be concerned with tying it all up. There's a constant sense of doom growing more inevitable, as the perils our protagonists must face are ever larger.
Basically, if you thought "Fellowship" was tense and action-packed, you ain't seen nothing yet! There is easily ten times more danger and mayhem in "The Two Towers", and the action is consistently more visceral and inspired. Every other scene boasts a whopper that would be the highlight of your average flick: a mightier-than-ever Gandalf releasing Théoden's spirit, Trolls opening the Gates of Mordor, the ambush attack on wicked men riding "olyphants", a field confrontation with Orcs riding giant hyenas, the terrifying introduction of the flying Nazgul, the Ents' stampede toward Saruman's lair... And then there's the battle of Helm's Deep pitting the Rohan people against tens of thousands Uruk-hai. I must say, that last 45 minute is a-ma-zing. Whereas I compared "Fellowship" to the best parts of "Braveheart", "Conan" and "Robin Hood", here Jackon's film reaches Kurosawa heights.
WHAT MORE CAN YOU ASK FOR?
Well, mind-blowing action is one thing. What sets the LOTR movies apart even more is that through it all, we remain close to the countless memorable characters embodied by a greatish cast. The dynamic between Frodo and Sam is still homo-erotic but I find that to be a good thing: it goes to show how convincing their deep bond is. Miranda Otto affectingly balances vulnerability and willpower as Éowyn and brings welcomed feminity to this much manly story, as does Liv Tyler's returning Arwen. Merry and Pippin evolve beyond being pranksters, taking a stand and using their wits with the Ents. Gimli is still mostly comic relief, but he IS funny, as is Legolas in his own deadpan way. And they both kick major ass in battle, as does Aragorn... Oh, Aragorn. I love how he's been slowly but surely taking center-stage. By the end of this film, I could hardly think of a more exhilarating action hero than Viggo Mortensen. You can feel him accepting his destiny as a grand leader in the upcoming War of the Ring... You know it's close (well, another 12 months) and you can't wait: the "Return of the King"!