It’s been observed that the middle movie of a trilogy is often the best film. There are several examples that bear this hypothesis out – The Dark Knight, The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Pt. II, Spiderman II.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers turns out to be no exception to this rule. It is a tour-de-force of fantasy action and adventure that really stands alone in its scale and scope. Although The Two Towers hardly stands on its own as a film (it’s really all over the place in narrative, thanks to the splintering of the Fellowship of the Ring), it offers some of the best individual moments of the Lord of the Rings series.
Frodo and Sam, along with Gollum, begin their union and their expedition into Mordor – but there really isn’t much movement on their front in this movie, if we’re being honest. Andy Serkis, as Gollum, gets some excellent moments to show his range as an actor, and the motion capture is still as glorious now as it was when the film first came out, but there’s just not a lot going on in this story.
Pippin and Merry, at least, get some action here, and it really picks up later on once they convince Treebeard and the Ents to join the fight against Saruman. There are also some amusing moments here, particularly as the two try to convince Treebeard that they are not Orcs.
It has to be said, however, that one storyline stands apart in The Two Towers as the clear focus of the story, and the film’s greatest strength. The adventures of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, as they chase Merry and Pippin, and subsequently join Gandalf in the war for Rohan, has all the fun, all the momentum, and all the focus of the film. As we follow these heroes across Rohan, we see how war-torn the land has become, the hold that Saruman has on Théoden, and for the first time we see how the battle for Middle Earth is affecting the everyday civilians of the world. It’s very strong stuff, really bringing all of the conflict to a human level that we can understand. And just as this story begins to humanize the conflict, we get to the Battle of Helms Deep.
Game of Thrones is one of the most critically acclaimed, big-budget TV shows of all time, featuring vast fantasy battles and sequences on a scale unprecedented to television. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, of course, had a vastly bigger budget than Game of Thrones does, and nowhere is that more clear than in the Battle of Helms Deep. This is cinematic action on the truest epic scale, as we follow the siege and defense of a massive fortress. The battle goes on for around a full half hour of screen time – which doesn’t sound like a lot, but is actually an incredibly ambitious length for a single sequence of battle to last. And yet, it never feels stale; you feel every blow taken, you truly appreciate the level of despair that the defenders of the fortress have come to, and when Gandalf and the Rohirrim show up at dawn’s first light, you can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. This is cinematic perfection.