So erstwhile Hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin) continue their trek across Middle-Earth to throw the One Ring into the flaming cracks of Mordor, having been separated from the rest of the fellowship. Fellow Hobbits Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) have been captured by a particularly nasty brand of Orc called the Uruk-hai, with the rest of the gang from the first film — hunky Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), chilled-out Elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and gruff Dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) hot on their trail.
Making return appearances are Christopher Lee's evil wizard Saruman, Ian McKellen back from the dead as Gandalf, plus Elven babes Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett. There are new characters too — Théoden (Bernard Hill), the king of Rohan who has had his mind enslaved by Saruman, Wormtoungue (Brad Dourif), Théoden's nefarious advisor, a talking tree called Treebeard and, of course, Gollum, the brilliantly-realised CGI creature who is desperate to reclaim the Ring which he once possessed.
While Peter Jackson stuck pretty close to the text of Fellowship of the Ring, he is far less faithful to his source novel here, shifting around events and holding over large chunks for the next part. Tolkien purists may balk at such changes, but it all flows so much better than Fellowship, whose episodic nature slightly stilted that first film. This plays more like a conventional action movie really, with Viggo Mortensen's square-jawed hero usurping Wood as leading man. Like most the cast, Mortensen does a good job with the sometimes ponderous dialogue; Lee and McKellen are a joy as always, while Andy Serkis is extraordinary as the voice and movements of Gollum. It's also interesting to observe the change that has undergone Frodo and Sam, from the happy-go-lucky Halflings of the beginning of Fellowship, to increasingly desperate ring-bearers, knowing that their quest may destroy them.
It's really all about spectacle though, and the range of Jackson's vision remains breathtaking. He's helped of course by New Zealand's spectacular scenery, but his melding of CGI and live action is superb. No more is this true than in the film's epic final battle, as thousands of Orc warriors lay siege to the human stronghold of Helm's Deep — it's one of the greatest battle sequence ever put on film, brutal, bloody and utterly gripping.
There are certainly flaws — much of the first half seemed rushed, with the new characters introduced way too fast. Tyler and new girl Miranda Otto have little to do but look nice and make eyes at Viggo, and at the end of the day, it's a little hard to take a film with characters called 'Wormtongue' and 'Treebeard' THAT seriously. But this is the stuff you think about afterwards, and if taken for what it is — namely, a rip-snorting fantasy adventure — then The Two Towers is pretty much top of its class.
Hugely talented New Zealand director best known today for his Lord of the Rings adaptations. Started out making inventive, entertaining gore comedies like Bad Taste and Braindead, while his adult Muppet-spoof Meet the Feebles was a true one-off. Jackson's powerful murder drama Heavenly Creatures was his breakthrough as a more 'serious' filmmaker, and if horror comedy The Frighteners was a bit of a disappoinment, then his epic The Lord Of The Rings trilogy - Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King were often breathtaking interpretations of Tolkien's books. 2005's blockbuster King Kong saw Jackson finally realise his dream of updating his all-time favourite film, but literary adaptation The Lovely Bones won him little respect. In 2012 he returned to Middle Earth with the three-part epic The Hobbit and in 2018 directed acclaimed WWI doc They Shall Not Grow Old.