The first half of The Two Towers focuses on our fellowship which has now split into 3 factions. Frodo and Samwise, on their way to Mordor, have formed a coalition with the creature Gollum who has promised to get them to Mount Doom safely. Merry and Pippin, having been taken by orcs, manage to escape into Fangorn Forest where they befriend an Ent (living tree) called Treebeard. Meanwhile Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are hot on Merry and Pippins trail but they encounter an unexpected friend in Fangorn.
Something Fellowship of the Ring set up but really gets delivered here is just how negatively The One Ring affects people. Frodo is quicker to anger an appears paler than when he started and is now sympathising with Gollum, who clearly only cares about The Ring. The colour and energy has drained from Frodo as if The Ring is draining him off his life. It’s obvious that he isn’t totally aware of how affected he is and that he isn’t capable of making this journey alone. Samwise continues to be a voice of positivity and an excellent point of comparison for just how much Frodo is changing. Gollums CGI, after 20 years, is almost flawless and Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance is truly Oscar worthy.
The Two Towers flipping back and forth between Merry and Pippin and their rescuers is a wonderful bit of storytelling. These two could easily just be a comedy duo but instead we are given time to get to know them and it’s obvious how much their rescuers care about them. Aragorn, having sworn to protect them, takes his loyalty seriously which demonstrates his kingly qualities. He’s definitely growing as a character and Viggo Mortensens performance is at 110% here. The scene of him screaming in agony as he kicks an orc helmet is genuine agony as he broke his toes doing it. He continued the scene anyway stating that the stunt actors has been through worse. The only thing I could fault in this section of the film is that Gimli is used almost solely for comedic effect. Dwarves are a proud, noble race who seek respect from everyone and I get that a tale will sometimes require comedy but Gimli is worth more than that.
The plot twist of this half is that there is a white wizard wandering the forest which you would presume is Sauroman. In actuality it turns out to be Gandalf who has returned to Middle Earth from the Astral Plane. This is a superb reveal done by bathing him in light, superimposing Sauromans eyes and voice over Gandalfs. His return is a small moment of relief in a story that seems not to be on the side of our heroes. This extended cut of The Two Towers features additional footage that serves as further insight to some of the characters. We see Sauroman ordering the destruction of Fangorn Forrest as well as more backstory on the Ents and Entwives and a burial scene for the prince of Rohan. These are lovely moments of peace but they also show the losses that Sauron has caused. Put simply, it adds to the tragedy of an already tragic tale.
Having spent a movie and a half building up to war, it finally arrives with the Battle of Helms Deep. Its defense against an immense hoard of orcs are the villagers of Rohan, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas. Meanwhile Merry and Pippin are trying to convince the Ents that this war is their problem too while Frodo and Samwise are captured by a battalion of men. The joy of having such a long runtime is that the beginning of the battle for Middle Earth feels earned instead of thrusting it on us and expecting us to care. By this point, we the audience are so invested that Treebeard proclaiming that the Ents won’t fight kind of stings. It may seem like such a small plot thread but, to me, it’s far from that. Ents are an ancient race who have seen many wars come and go and believe that they have nothing to do with them. Thankfully, Pippin convinces them to fight and is responsible for the fall of Isengard but the point here is that war affects everyone. Its about the bigger picture and how every being, whether they know it or not, can play a vital part in changing things for the better. Tolkein wrote that “even the smallest person can change the course of the future” and that’s as true today as it was the day Isengard fell.
After being captured by a battalion of men, Fodo and Samwise learn that there leader is Faramir- brother of Boromir. The extended cut gives us a flashback to the day Boromir was sent to Rivendell, showing us how much the two brothers loved each other and how their father cared only for Boromir. This is a heartbreaking little scene but it’s nice to see Boromir one last time and in his prime. Faramir ultimately proves how pure of heart he is by freeing Frodo and Samwise, allowing Gollum to lead them to Mordor. He is a perfect contrast to his brother.
The majority of this half of The Two Towers is taken up by The Battle of Helms Deep and what a glorious battle it is. There are hundreds of extras dressed as orcs and Elves and every single one of them is unique. It took 2 and a half months of night shoots on location to complete, which is a monumental feat and is worth every second. Each blow of the sword, each strike of the arrow all feels necessary to winning this battle. There’s a nice shot of Legolas shield-surfing down a flight of stairs as well as some fantastic camaraderie between him and Gimli. They’re cracking jokes and keeping a count of who has killed the most Uruk-Hai which goes to show how close they’ve become since leaving Rivendell. For the record, Gimli beat Legolas with 43 kills to 42. Gandalf remarks “the battle for Helms Deep is over, the battle for Middle Earth has just begun” which is nice reminder of what is to come. This momentous battle, on which many hours were spent, is nothing compared to what Return of the King will give us.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is a marvelous turning point in the story. After much loss there is finally success but it is far from over. This film foreshadows the grave dangers and even graver hardships to follow.
Until Next Time…