Picking up directly where THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001) left off, this dark and near-despairing sequel plunges the now-scattered band assembled in the first film into a hellish landscape of war and waste. Plucky hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are traipsing towards the dark kingdom of Mordor, where Frodo must destroy the malevolent ring of power in the burning maw of Mount Doom before it falls into evil hands. The scrawny, desiccated Gollum (voice of Andy Serkis), who once possessed the ring and was warped and twisted by its insidious influence, agrees to lead them, and Frodo is persuaded by the sorry creature's whining and cringing that the potential for good still stirs beneath his wizened skin. Skeptical Sam fears the ring is beginning to cloud Frodo's judgment. Meanwhile, fellow hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) remain prisoners of the fearsome Uruk-hai, unnatural warrior beasts created by the wicked wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) to destroy all human life in Middle Earth. In imminent danger of being eaten by their cannibal captors, the hobbits escape into the fearsome Fangorn Forest and fall in with an ancient, sentient tree (voice of John Rhys-Davies), who spends much of the movie deciding what to do with them. And in yet another location, warrior Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and his companions, Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) — a dwarf and an elf, respectively — are en route to the kingdom of Rohan, which lies directly in the path of the massive Uruk-hai army. They seek an alliance with King Theoden (Bernard Hill), who must first be liberated from a spell cast by the unsubtly named quisling Wormtongue (Brad Dourif). Aided by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), now white-haired but otherwise unscathed by his apparently fatal encounter with a fire beast in the previous film, they join forces with Theoden to stop the Uruk-hai in their scaly-clawed tracks.
While the first film in Peter Jackson's epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy was weighted in favor of establishing characters and developing the relationships that bind them, this second installment is heavy on battle sequences, which will thrill some viewers more than others. Several significant characters from the first film, notably Aragon's lover Arwen (Liv Tyler) and elf queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), make token appearances. New players are added, including Faramir (David Wenham), belligerent brother of the late Boromir, and no-nonsense princess Eowyn (Miranda Otto), who might be a new love interest for Aragorn were it not for the fact that romantic love in Tolkien's tales is so often unrequited. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh