Overview:   Frodo and Sam are led by an unusual guide while everyone else begins to choose a side and prepare for the inevitable as the battle for Middle Earth continues in the second installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  2002, New Line Cinema, rated PG-13, 179 minutes.

I remember sitting in the theater watching The Two Towers for the first time like it was yesterday.  Although I enjoyed my first journey to Middle Earth in Fellowship of the Ring, particularly it’s breathtaking visuals and wide array of equally engrossing cast of characters, I wasn’t entirely sold on investing so many hours in such an extensive story that seemingly revolved around an endless walk.  That is, until I witnessed this middle chapter in all its glory.  I sat with eyes glued to the screen, my mouth half open, sweaty palms gripping the arms of my chair.  This chapter is everything a sequel and an epic, high fantasy film should be, equal parts engaging and exciting, part spectacle and part simple, organic storytelling.

Peter Jackson succeeds in all aspects of filmmaking as the director of this trilogy, and he’s at his best in Two Towers.  Our fellowship has officially parted ways, leaving us to split our focus among at least three different storylines through this film, and Jackson balances each of them masterfully, countering heavier dialogue with eye popping action, broken up with a bit of biting banter between Sam and Gollum.  The continuous ebb and flow of the progressions of each set pieces never wavers or misses a beat, making a three hour movie feel like it lasts about half that long.

Within each of these three storylines, each character is given ample opportunity to be fleshed out in a way that still manages to move the plot forward.  Nothing from a meaningful look to a conversation, to a clashing of swords is wasted.  Even though Frodo and Sam end up being forced to back track on their journey to Mordor, the importance in their chapter here lies in the slow build of the rings increasing power over Frodo and the animosity that builds between Gollum and Sam as Smeagol manipulates his way into earning Frodo’s trust.  Andy Serkis is in prime form, lending everything from his voice to his facial features and body movements to create this stunning, terrifying creature.  Serkis manages to give Golllum/Smeagol two very distinct voices and personalities in order to illustrate the constant battle that wages inside him.

Following these rising tensions ramps up the intensity, never really allowing the viewer to relax  as the film builds toward one of the greatest, most visually astounding and technologically superb battle sequences to ever unfold on a movie screen.  The anticipation, fear, and dread  permeate the air, beat down on Aragorn and the rest of those defending Helms Deep. It soaks us to the bone; the rain pours while everyone waits.  And just when the anxiety becomes unbearable, the gas pedal is slammed and all hell breaks lose, and it is absolutely glorious. The result is a magnetic, spectacular display of good versus evil, complete with an explosion of sheer fantastical fighting sequences, devastating losses, and moving speeches, all broken up, of course, with some more banter.  The end result is that of blissful exhaustion. The roller coaster of emotion is drowned out by triumphant shouts of sheer joy and victory as Gandalf the White and his army appear at dawn, securing a short-lived, but utterly breathtaking and satisfying victory.

The Two Towers succeeds like few other middle installments do in serving as both a satisfying benchmark that ties the introduction and conclusion to this trilogy together and a completely stand alone work of art that achieves its goal as a wholly satisfying film on every level.

Grade: A+