Just when you think director Peter Jackson is in over his head with the extravagant special effects, numerous characters, and the large scope of J.R.R. Tolkein's book, he proves you wrong. Every moment is more fantastic than the next, culminating to a point near the end of the film where I actually stopped breathing. Always a good sign.
For those who found the first film in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, to have a confusing, unclear storyline, there isn't much of an improvement. The large majority of people who haven't read the books will find the plot difficult to follow as I did. It is also important to see the first film before seeing this one, as Two Towers serves as a bridge from the beginning of this grand story to its conclusion.
Everything picks up right where it left off in the last film. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is dead, and Frodo (Elijah Wood) is beginning to feel the power of the ring on his quest to destroy it. Hobbits Peregrin (Billy Boyd) and Meriadoc (Dominic Monaghan) are prisoners of some very scary looking beasts. Handsome warrior Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) is traveling with the elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) to find their two captured companions. Saruman (Christopher Lee) is still evil, and planning some type of world takeover.
The film follows each one of these characters and their journeys over its three hour running time. Peter Jackson does a remarkable job of keeping all his balls in the air like a master juggler. Even though we haven't seen these characters in over a year, and even when the stories of certain characters are forgotten for an hour or so, we still come right back to them. There's so much going on, that the film really deserves a second viewing just to take it all in. The effects are quite simply unbelievable, so even if we don't quite understand what's going on, at least Jackson gives us something to look at.
The last hour has one of the best battle scenes in decades. It alone is worth the price of admission. Just when I thought it was one of the most incredible things I'd ever seen on screen, the enemies started attacking by hoisting themselves up on gigantic ladders. Incredible.
The ultimate downfall of the film is that while Frodo's quest to destroy the ring gives an emotional center point for the audience, there aren't a lot of other reasons to care about the characters. The scope is too large to really find out anything personal about them. There is no time allotted for personality or reasons behind their actions. Every character speaks solely through their actions, which may work for a fantasy film in which the forces of good and evil are well defined, but leaves the viewer with an overall feeling of emptiness at the end of the film. The action that happen during the film sticks to memory, while the nearly all of the characters and their lines don't.
This isn't to say that the actors give mediocre performances. On the contrary—every actor (with the exception of Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett, who both show up for an annoying two minutes each) gives their character life. It's ironic that the best performance from the film doesn't come from a real person at all. It comes from British actor Andy Serkis, who provides the voice for Gollum, a very creepy new companion to Frodo and Sam. His performance should be nominated for an Academy Award, but won't be because his character is computer-animated. This creates an interesting new problem for the Academy to explore in the future.
The Two Towers is the first film since Titanic where I thought to myself, "How could they not give that Best Picture?" afterwards. It is a breathtaking epic despite any of its emotional shortcomings. Go experience it now.