Ever faithful to J.R.R. Tolkien's epic story The Two Towers begins right where The Fellowship of the Ring left off--the Fellowship has now been splintered. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) has supposedly been killed. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) have gone off to rescue Hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) who have been taken by the Uruk-Hai the army of super Orcs commanded by the evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee). Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) continue to make their way to Mordor--with the Ring weighing heavily upon poor Frodo--and manage to get lost. As fate would have it they meet Gollum (Andy Serkis) the miserable former owner of the Ring who tells them he'll lead them to Mordor--and the Ring's destruction (unless of course he can steal it back first). Although Sam does not trust the slimy creature (and rightly so) Frodo forms an odd attachment to Gollum. Meanwhile Aragorn and the others discover Gandalf is actually alive and stronger than ever. He tells the trio Pippin and Merry are safe in the hands of Treebeard the leader of the Ents (creatures who care for the forests) but Saruman and the Uruk-Hai are wreaking havoc on the Men of Rohan. Gandalf urges them to fight alongside Rohan's King Theoden (Bernard Hill) and his people at the fortress Helm's Deep. The motley crew stage a desperate climatic battle against the 10 000 strong army of Uruk-Hai to keep Sauron's malevolent control at bay.
The returning stars continue to shine as their characters further develop. Wood gets to show a little mettle proving he can be more than just sweetness and light as the Ring starts to cloud his better judgment. McKellen doesn't get to chew the scenery nearly as much as he did in Fellowship but enjoys one of the better movie entrances seen in awhile (returning from the dead is always pretty powerful). As the unwaveringly brave heroes Mortensen as the brooding Aragorn makes even greasy hair and dirty fingernails attractive while Bloom as the ultra-cool elf Legolas never gives you a moment of doubt he'll lose a fight. Rhys-Davies as the stout-hearted dwarf Gimli is pretty much the film's comic relief and he delivers admirably. The new additions to the Rings clan who stand out include Brad Dourif as Theodan's wicked adviser Grima Wormtongue an evil minion of Saruman (OK with a name like that you think he could possibly be a good guy?) and Miranda Otto as Eowyn a gutsy Rohan princess and possible new love interest for Aragorn. But if a computer-generated character could actually win an award for best acting then Gollum just might get it (and don't think it's out of the realm of possibility in this ever-growing computer age). He quite simply steals the show in The Two Towers. As voiced by Serkis (24 Hour Party People) the hideous creature with a definite good guy/bad guy split personality is a flawless blend of human attributes and technology. Oddly you end up feeling sorry for the little cretin.
To compare Fellowship with The Two Towers is pointless because in essence they are two completely different films. Towers is much more dense dark and somewhat heavy-handed in its message of good vs. evil. Yet the tremendous undertaking by director Peter Jackson of filming all three films at once continues to inspire breathtaking visuals. It's absolutely clear his time and effort are spent making sure this Tolkien opus looks exactly the way it is supposed to--and filming in the beautiful mountains of New Zealand doesn't hurt either. The details are impeccable save a few missteps here and there such as the walking treelike Ents who are a little too Disney theme park-ish. The one thing Jackson does throw in the film is the unresolved love story between Aragorn and the immortal elf Arwen (Liv Tyler) which is not in the actual The Two Towers text but rather explained in an appendix. Still romance always works and showing Aragorn's yearning for his lost love only adds to his character especially when he starts to have feelings for the very human Eowyn. The film's crowning glory remains the battle at Helm's Deep and can best be described as Braveheart meets The Alamo; it'll keep your heart leaping into your throat at every turn. The Two Towers should reap many technical awards at the Academy Awards but Best Picture may still prove to be elusive. Don't give up hope--there's always The Return of the King.