(As with all of my LotR reviews, I am reviewing the extended editions, not the theatrical releases.)
Most people seem to place The Two Towers at the end of their Lord of the Rings tier list. That’s understandable when considering that most people only remember being fatigued by the seemingly endless string of action sequences in the theatrical release. But when it comes to the extended editions, The Two Towers is king.
This review could go about discussing the shortcomings of the other two films. It could discuss the extensive denouement of The Return of the King, or the fact that most of the characters in the world are absent from half of The Fellowship. But I’ll try and stick to explaining why The Two Towers is superior, not why the other films of the trilogy struggle to keep up.
Most importantly, the characters introduced in The Two Towers are outstanding in their dynamism and are the keystones of the trilogy.
Gollum, who is unquestionably the most dynamic character in the LotR universe, plays a huge role in the second film. The audience is shown so many sides of his character that they don’t quite know whether to side with Frodo or Sam regarding his villainy. He’s so lovable and so hateable all at the same time. Combining his two battling egos with his key role as Frodo’s navigator makes Gollum one of the most important and memorable characters in the history of film (not to mention the revolutionary motion-capture techniques used to create Gollum, and Andy Serkis’ legendary performance).
Moving away from the insanity that is Gollum, one of the most humanized characters in all three Lord of the Rings films is Faramir. Boromir’s younger brother is put to the same task as his elder sibling: to resist the pull of the ring and allow Frodo to continue on his quest. Yet Faramir faces this task within the context of much more dire and immediate consequences. Faramir must fight against the desire for his father’s recognition along with the desire for the ring of power, all whilst coming to terms with his brother’s death and commanding an entire army to defend his kingdom. This is no easy task even for the most noble of character. Faramir is one of the most lovable and strong-willed characters in Middle Earth, and he brings so much life to The Two Towers. Plus, The Two Towers gets bonus points for Boromir and Denethor both having a short cameo in the middle of the film in a scene that depicts Boromir as the honorable and dedicated hero he truly is.
Alongside the introduction of the Sons of Gondor is the introduction of the Rohirrim and King Theoden of Rohan. King Theodan is a troubled man, struggling to maintain control of his mind and his kingdom. Sauruman has possessed him and wreaked havoc across his lands. But when Gandalf and the rest of the fellowship come to his aid, releasing Theoden from Saruman’s grasp, does he kneel and follow their every command? No. Theoden has his own goals with his own means of achieving them. He does not wish to risk the lives of his people for the lives of those whom have previously abandoned him. Theoden’s struggle as King is more intense than any other royal character in the series. His people are not warriors, but they are strong and proud, as is their king, and they fight desperately for their freedom during the course of the film.
Speaking of nobility, it is impossible to forget about Eowyn, Theoden’s niece and one of the two leading female characters in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. When faced with adversity, Eowyn is one of the strongest characters of all. As a woman, she is tasked with aiding other women and children, and tending to the weak and the wounded. But she remains strong of will throughout her trials and is a worthy carrier of the torch for all the female characters in the Lord of the Rings (few there may be).
This review doesn’t even scratch the surface of the incredible characters and events of The Two Towers. Events like the Balrog fight, Gandalf returning from the grave, the introduction of the Ents and the Battle of Isengaurd, the first sighting of the Fellbeasts, Pippin’s incident with the Palantir, the hopelessness of the Battle of Helms Deep, Gimli and Legolas’ flowering relationship, King Theoden’s recital of “The Horse and The Rider”, and Aragorn’s most kingly recommendation to “ride out and meet them”, The Two Towers is chock full of epic moments that make the second film my favorite installment of the trilogy.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love all three films equally, and it kills me to put one ahead of another. But when forced to rank them, I always come to the conclusion that The Two Towers is my favorite, and it should be yours too.
“The Horn of Helm Hammerhand shall sound in the deep, one last time. Let this be the hour when we draw swords together. Fell deeds awake. Now for wrath, now for ruin, and the red dawn!”