Seriously, this movie has, like, three endings back-to-back! Is it super satisfying? Oh, hell yes! But still!
Out of all three Lord of the Rings movies, Return of the King is the one that everyone really loves. It’s easily the longest, whether you’re watching the theatrical or extended cut (the ladder is the only proper way to watch these, fight me). While I do think that, in terms of the story itself, Two Towers is a stronger movie (mostly because no one else will), I can admit that, as a movie, I can see why.
This is the one LOTR movie that I feel time hasn’t touched in the slightest. Everything, from the writing to the editing to the cinematography, have aged phenomenally well! Yes, it’s long as hell; four hours of movie can be a bit much for people that aren’t me. But it’s so damn satisfying to watch!
The clearest improvement is in the editing. In previous movies, when they needed slow-mo for whatever reason, they would basically turn it into a slideshow. They were blurry, choppy, and unappealing. It was super strange, very 90s, and kind of bad.
Here? Slow-mo works like it should! It’s footage that moves slowly! It’s nice, smooth, and clear! I don’t know why it took three movies to figure this out, but hey! They figured it out!
The cinematography is much better, too. There are plenty of incredible, dynamic, and interesting shots that stick out. My personal favorite is Frodo and Sam climbing the stairs to Sheelob’s lair; it gives a great sense of height, creating this sense of anxiety, like they could fall and die at any moment.
Plus, they finally stop using those awkward zoom-ins on characters. Another lesson learned!
Now, the biggest strength of this movie’s story is its flexibility. It often swaps perspective from a large selection of characters. One scene, we’re with Frodo and Sam. The next, we’re with Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. The next, we’re with Merry and the Riders of Rohan. Next, we’re with Pippin and Gandalf up in Minas Tirith. It flips between all these characters up until the groups start to unite near the end.
However, this is a double-edged sword. For one, it gives us less time to flesh things out, like we had in the first movie.
The biggest example I can think of was the Battle for Minas Tirith. Yes, this battle has some incredible moments that are downright iconic. ‘I am no man’, ‘Ride now’, the arrival of Aragorn and the ghost army, so on and so forth. But the battle itself, the actual fighting part, doesn’t really stand out very much. It’s mostly just ‘characters fight waves of orcs until more characters show up to help’.
Now, compare this with the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Not only do we get all that cool character shit, but we also see the different sides of the battle clashing with different tactics. We see the Uruk Hai climbing the walls, then they just blow that shit up. Then our heroes are pressed into the keep and have to defend a single door as it crumbles to pieces. So, they try a flanking maneuver with Aragorn and Gimli. But oh now, now they need to be pulled out from a horde of enemies. So on and so forth.
Stuff like that doesn’t happen in the Battle for Minas Tirith. It’s just ‘armies bash against each other until another one shows up to help’. Is that bad? By no means! Those iconic moments I mentioned earlier wouldn’t be so damn iconic if they weren’t amazing! Despite my complaints, I still like this battle! But I do think that it’s one of the least interesting battles in the series.
Another big problem is the ending. Yes, it’s satisfying, emotional, and does a great job wrapping things up. But it can get pretty exhausting, having to sit through roughly three different endings to a story back to back. It can definitely be a bit much.
Don’t get me wrong. As critical as I am, I still adore this movie! There are few movies I’ve seen more times in my life! It’s a true fantasy classic, easily one of the best movies in the entire genre!
And with that, I’ll leave Tolkien alone for a while. Until I talk about the animated movies. And maybe the Hobbit trilogy, I dunno.