When last we left Middle Earth, Frodo and Sam were off to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring of Power, Gandalf had fallen into the darkness or Moria along with his fiery Balrog buddy, Merry and Pippin were hauled off by some nasty orcs, with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in hot pursuit.
The Two Towers wastes no time, picking up right where The Fellowship of the Ring left off. Quickly things are set in motion in our three diverging storylines: Frodo and Sam, lost and walking in circles, soon find an unlikely guide in Gollum, the pathetic creature whose possession of the Ring for hundreds of years drove him mad; Merry and Pippin find themselves in Fangorn Forest, where they encounter Treebeard the Ent. For those of you who have not read the books, I won't go into what an Ent is. You'll see; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli (along with an old friend who is not as dead as we all thought he was) get the bulk of the film's attention as they wind up in the lands of Rohan, where all sorts of drama is going on. Orcs have overrun the land, and the king, Theoden, has, well, not been himself for quite some time, thanks in part to his greasy, grotesque advisor, Grima Wormtongue. But trouble is brewing thanks to the evil white wizard Saruman, so our heroes have to light a fire under Theoden's ass and mobilize the people of Rohan for an impending orc onslaught (which makes for one of the greatest, most epic battles ever put on screen).
And so the stories go.
Easily one of the best films this year--if not the best (at least thus far)--The Two Towers does not manage to best Fellowship. While it is much more briskly paced, more fun and crowd-pleasing, and has lighter moments than its predecessor, The Two Towers' one flaw is that it has too many stories to tell. We lose the intimacy of the first film, when the nine companions struggled together in their one quest. Now, being forced to jump from thread to thread, we don't get as much depth and richness of character as we did in Fellowship. However, given the confines of Tolkien's source material, this is the absolute best movie that could possibly have been delivered.
The character of Gollum is a marvel. Well-written, well-acted, and the best use of computer graphics in film to date. Gollum makes Jar-Jar Binks--and even Yoda--look like crudely-drawn papersack puppets. His character design flawlessly walks the fine line between monster and human, as does his performance. Tolkien crafted one of the greatest fantasy characters of all time in Gollum, and the filmmakers captured his essence magnificently. You hate Gollum; you love Gollum; you pity Gollum; you fear Gollum; you laugh at Gollum and you cry for Gollum.
Every time I see Fellowship, I love it more and more. I'm going to see this one again and again over the holidays for sure, and I'm sure my appreciation will grow. As it is, it's a damn good film.