This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Name Not Given’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
An onslaught of grotesque creatures, dripping with blood and slime charging at a fort whilst an elf and a dwarf brag about how many they have killed. Despite the highbrow nature of this work, Jackson was born to make the battle of Helm’s Deep. Apparently it took 7 months to shoot, yet I doubt that that was because of the rough working conditions, but because Peter was having so much fun. From Legolas skating down a flight of stairs whilst barraging an array of orcs with his arrows, to Gimli, asking Aragorn to toss him to get closer to the bloodshed, every moment of this set piece is bursting with creativity and is filled with grotesque joy. This part of the film is ‘Braindead’ without the blood and guts, but equally entertaining and well choreographed. Yet, despite the more freelance tone of this scene compared to the rest of the, otherwise rather sombre film, never does this become buoyant. This is a film where menace pulses in its veins, more so than in the other ‘Rings’ films, and this final battle is the accumulation of 2 hours of simmering threat, of build up. And as we cut from one battle scene to the next, one cannot help but get the feeling that this anticipation has paid off. No plot thread is left hanging; everything is tied up, yet never to the point of feeling like a factory made product. As entertaining as these fights are, they are in equal measure, brutal. Before our soldiers march into battle, we see young children being strapped in to fight. The possibility of losing is strong, and our characters are nothing short of desperate. Yes, we never see any 10 year olds getting impaled, but there is always the looming threat of that happening during the more heightened warfare.
Also, whilst the battle of Helm’s deep is without a doubt the most impressive part of this third act, the ents’ siege of Isengard is also incredibly well constructed. Saruman’s plight is nothing short of a Shakesperean tragedy, and the idea of him retaining his control until the trees usurp him is an incredibly meta reference to ‘Macbeth.’ Even more interesting however is immediately before the ambush, when Treebeard stands at the edge of the forest, mourning over the trees that once were living, but are now nothing more than ashes. Never for one second would I have thought that I would be shedding tears for the flora that has been burn, yet I found myself sobbing, almost uncontrollably, and that is why what follows works so well. Saruman deserves to fall, his reign has been nothing short of tyrannical and his subsiding is just. So when these trees march to the tower, and crash down the structures that surround it, every boulder that crashes to the ground, every fire that gets extinguished, feels like an act of rebellion, a declaration of freedom. Tears cannot be factory made; they can only be produced with earnestness, thus this pay off feels so, so earned. It is not empty spectacle, this is a colossal film, a film heavy with dramatic weight.
Yet at the very end, once the fighting is over for a brief period time, and through nothing but a string of miracles, the fellowship remains victorious, we allow ourselves to witness Sam and Frodo, breathing their last breaths of clean air, unhindered by the smog of Mount Doom. Yet what comes out of Sam’s mouth is what truly solidifies this final act as one of the best moments of cinema to ever grace the silver scene. Listening to him reminisce on the stories of old, on which ones will be remembered, and reassuring Frodo that his name will be etched into the pages of history for centuries to come, whilst the images of the people of Rohan cheering over their victory, and the ents seizing power over Isengard, again, that feeling washes over. Everything will be alright, despite the looming threat, there will always be that small chance of success, and it is that small chance that makes everything worthwhile. This may be the darkest entry in the series, yet like its predecessor and successor, it is also nothing short of optimistic. The stakes are there, yet they are necessary for the victories to really mean something.
The first 2 hours do not even touch the level of brilliance of the finale, it is ultimately slightly hindered by its ambition with the abundance of subplots slightly hurting the overall pacing of the work, yet when everything is tied up so brilliantly, one cannot help but notice that every moments serves its purpose, there is not one unnecessary scene. This is a film that takes its time, yet it is in the long shots, where seemingly nothing happens, that most is said. What I remember most about this chunk of the film is the sight of Aragorn, sat upon his steed, cantering across the Kiwi landscape, almost as if he were the star of a western. Jackson shoots the mountains of New Zealand in the same way that Ford shoots the deserts of south. Zhao may have made the latest MCU movie, yet I doubt that any blockbuster will surpass ‘The Two Towers’ in the way that it captures different landscapes. Characters, overpowered by the setting sun, resemble less people, than silhouettes. There is a sublime beauty to be found here that I have trouble describing, for it truly is beyond words.
So yes, a good chunk of this film is nothing but landscape porn, but why do I say that as if it were a bad thing? For 3 hours, I found my head lulled, hypnotised by the imagery on display. This is a work of unrelenting harshness, and mesmerising beauty, both in reference to the visuals and the content. When ‘Fellowship’ was first shown to the world, it announced the birth of 21st century cinema, and a year later, ‘Two Towers’ reinforces just how well these films work. Adventurous yet rigorous, made by a studio but also clearly the work of an auteur, this trilogy is what cinema was made for. Visionary; groundbreaking; revolutionary.