"The Two Towers" proves that "Lord of the Rings" is not a trilogy, but rather one massive flick chopped into three parts. There's no "previously on..." and no hope for catching up if you skipped the first film, this three hour epic starts right where we left off at the end of the first movie and consequently ends with surprisingly little fanfare or progression in terms of its characters or plot.
Yet, it works and works superbly. As all of these films were shot at the same time, pretty much all the compliments that applied to 'Fellowship' in my review apply here - acting from all involved is great, production design is just spectacular, the script is clever and the excellent FX are used to enhance plot rather than be the focus of it.
Having the first film under their belts though, Jackson & crew seem to have a better sense of confidence when it comes to taking risks with the trilogy and overcoming what very minor problems of pacing and hokey dialogue that cropped up in the first film. Two Towers is a faster and more action-centric film with a bigger scale, less convolution of characters, and a clever interweaving of three separate plots into one cohesive and engaging story. Its certainly more crowd-pleasing than the last film and those who found that 'Fellowship' failed to engage them or keep 'em awake will get into this a lot more.
That said personally I enjoyed 'Fellowship' and its key moments somewhat more. 'Fellowship' was a road movie with a lustrous look and varied environments ranging from the green fields of The Shire and the red fire of Moria to the blue magic of Lothlorien. 'Towers' on the other hand is uniformly grey and flat green with a lot of desolate rock climbing or fights in grass fields/muddy fortresses giving the whole film a more monotonous look.
Its more a linearly plotted medieval war movie which builds up over two hours towards one big battle scene and when it finally arrives its impressive but the close-up sword fighting gets kind of tiring and repetitive after a while. On the opposite side the Merry & Pippin storyline, the weakest of the three subplots (the Frodo/Sam/Gollum stuff is the best), has the pair pretty much sitting in a talking Tim Burton-esque tree for 2.5 hours until the last 20 minutes where it turns into the 'Ent attack' - an FX spectacle that had my jaw literally on the floor in amazement.
The highlight of the film is Gollum, a CG character wonder who looks a little hokey at times due to poor CG, for the most part is just a wonder because its not just a flat visual creation but a true three-dimensional being that you both despise and pity - he's a character going through a major internal psychological struggle between his personalities and this is played out in the best scene in the film when he has a conversation with himself. Miranda Otto, John Noble, Karl Urban, David Wenham and Brad Dourif all deliver fine work as new characters even if Wenham in particular gets very little to do.
That's the only real main complaint many will have with this film - the original movie's characters get somewhat of a short shrift this time out - Gandalf has much less screen time, Saruman & Elrond are far less interesting, Arwen and the romantic flashbacks bring out yawns, the Gimli character has become purely comic relief and even Frodo feels more of a supporting character this time out though gets some great scenes (the Dead Marshes sequence is very creepy). On the upside Legolas, Merry and Pippin all get more screen time - Aragorn pretty much dominates the movie, and Sam is fleshed out much more (despite a hokey ending speech).
The Two Towers won't get the kind of awards that Fellowship won or was nominated for, nor does it deserve to. 'Fellowship' was the most complicated and arguably least interesting of the books in the series yet Jackson turned it into an utterly brilliant film of wonder and magic. 'Towers' was easily the best book, and whilst the film makes a truly superb middle chapter to the series, and certainly one of the best films of the year, it doesn't stand alone on its own as well as the first film did - only by the slimmest of margins mind you.
Note however that 'Two Towers' I enjoyed more on my first viewing than Fellowship (which took me 2-3 viewings before I really fell in love), so it may rise up more as I get more comfortable with it. Make no mistake though, the only faults are that some of the storylines do drag on and that some of the characters are given short shrift - Jackson's changes to the book (such as the delaying of the Shelob scene till Film #3) are disappointing only because we have to wait so damn long to see the result. The rest, like the first movie, remains utterly epic and brilliant filmmaking fantasy which is truly cinematic and will have you begging for Dec 2003 to role around as fast as it can.