Our long hiking adventure continues in the second part of 'Two Towers' - an incredible leap up from the first part as far as holding my interest goes. The first part of this is fine for what it is, but as I've mentioned before, it's about moving pieces into position before the epic "strike" that is Part 2. This strike is the epic "Battle of Helm's Deep", clocking in at about 40 minutes long (give or take, depending on when you claim it all starts). But we'll get to that soon.
When we last left our Fellowship (minus Boromir), they were still divided into three separate groups. First, "The Ring Group", consisting of Frodo (Elijah Wood), Samwise (Sean Astin) and Gollum (Andy Serkis) is trying to work their way through a secret passage to Mordor in order to destroy the ring. All the while, the Eye of Sauron, atop tower #1 in Mordor searches for the ring and the one who possesses it. Gollum, however, still desires the ring he once possessed for himself, so becomes a bit of an obstacle on their journey, despite needing him. They soon stumble upon an ambush, and are eventually taken by a group of rangers, lead by Faramir (David Wenham), who ends up being Boromir's brother. He soon learns of the ring Frodo has, and decides he wants it for Gondor in an attempt to please his father (who we'll meet in 'Return of the King')
Meanwhile, "The Boring Group", consisting of Merry (Dominic Monaghan), Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Treebeard (John Rhys-Davies) is just kinda waiting for Treebeard and his fellow Ents to make a decision on whether or not they should fight in the upcoming battle against Saruman (Christopher Lee). This eventually leads to a "nah", but a determined Merry diverts Treebeard's attention to Isengard, home of Tower #1 - Saruman's (Christopher Lee) home base. From there, Saruman, along with his lacky, Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) controls a rising army of orcs that are about to be dispatched to Helm's Deep.
Meanwhile again, "The Cool Group", consisting of Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas the Elf (Orlando Bloom), Gimli the Dwarf (John Rhys-Davies) and Gandalf the White Wizard (Ian McKellen) have broken King Théoden (Bernard Hill) of a curse held over him, mainly by Wormtongue, who was secretly working for Saruman. With danger lurking on the horizon, Théoden begins to move his people to Helm's Deep - the only place close enough that they might stand a remote chance of standing up against the brewing orc army. Although, Gandalf sees things not working out incredibly well.
So, if you haven't figure it out by now, the best part of this movie is, at least objectively, the Battle of Helm's Deep. I remember watching this in theaters and just being blown away by how incredible the scope of it was. It all starts by setting this intense mood with lightning crashes, heavy rain, and a lack of music during the deep breath before the plunge. It keeps you on edge, makes you laugh, then hold on to the edge of your seat. The laughter comes from a misfire that actually starts the whole battle, which is otherwise intense.
Watching the whole thing unfold now, I'd say it really still holds up, but at the time it was pretty mind-blowing stuff. The use of CG and set pieces with a whole whack of extras that got to dress up as orcs in awesome enough, but the detail is so great that it gets down to things like costumes, makeup, and even the fashion of weaponry. If you check out the extras on the 'Two Towers' extended cut, it shows you how they did it all, and it's really quite fascinating. I actually kind of fell in love with Elvish weaponry's design, and ended up getting replicas of Legolas' daggers (which I sadly had to sell at a time when my cashflow sucked).
But besides the Cool Group doing their thing, there's plenty more to be had from everyone else than I'm letting on. In our Ring Group, for example, Sam gives one of my favourite cinematic speeches nearing the end about why it's worth fighting for the good of the world. It's also interesting to see the influence the ring is having over Frodo, and seeing him struggle with what's right and what's easy. As far as our Boring Group goes, Merry and Pippin spend most of the movie trying to get Treebeard to agree to fight, then take him to show him all of his dead tree friends to try to convince him. It makes for a little bit of accidental comedy too - at one point we do get to see an Ent on fire, run towards water to put himself out.
I think I mentioned this in my last review, but I truly feel that when people talk about the boredom they endure while watching these movies, the "Boring Group" is one of the prime examples of what they mean. But I have to say that when these movies find their action, that action is wonderfully portrayed with little to no shaky cam, great choreography, and a solid use of CG in order to fill in the blanks. Let's not leave out the music, either, which is some of the best cinematic material I can think of. Composer Howard Shore is pretty much a genius with his sense for setting the right mood in these movies, and the Battle for Helm's Deep here is a great example of music use.
Another thing I haven't really brought forward yet is the relationship between Legolas and Gimli. Its relatively known in this universe that elves and dwarves don't really want anything to do with each other. That's fairly true here, but as members of the Fellowship, Legolas and Gimli start to make friendly competition out of things as opposed to all out rivalry. They begin their body count contest here, and there's something so morbidly fun about it. The pair make for a good contrast with Legolas being an elegant warrior with mad skills and Gimli being a gruff brute, despite his size. Just seeing them make a game of it makes me think of us in present day, and the similar fun we have playing video games.
All in all, 'Two Towers' in its entirety is something of a middle-ground movie for me. For its time, back in 2002, it was incredible. You had the epic scale, the incredible CG effects, music, set pieces, acting (especially from Serkis who, once again, puts himself through the ringer to be this character) and more. It still totally holds up, but the fact of the matter is, we've seen similar since, especially with things like the MCU. It's a bit of a chore to get through that first big chunk sometimes, but Helm's Deep is well worth the wait, as it still looks incredible, even by today's high standards. But for as good as these first two films are, they'd have nothing on 'Return of the King'.