The second movie in Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s famous trilogy is better than the first.
There are two big problems in adapting The Two Towers. The first, that it doesn’t really come to a payoff until the final installment, is insoluble, although Jackson has used the battle of Helms Deep as something of a finale. The worse one is Gollum. Unless you throw away Tolkien’s story and start from a blank page, you can’t tell the last two volumes of Lord of the Rings without Gollum as a major character, and that begs for disaster. He’s mostly an irritating presence in the books, sniveling and lisping, and handled poorly on screem could easily make you long for Jar Jar Binks. But just as Phantom Menace is a lesson for filmmakers on how not to integrate an animated character into a live film, The Two Towers is a lesson in how it can be done right. Jackson’s Gollum, voiced well by Andy Serkis, is remarkably lively and expressive, both in facial movement and body language. He is alternately disgusting, pathetic, nasty, comic, decent, and always compelling. What could easily have been the weakness of the film becomes its greatest strength.
With a strong Gollum, and a solid cast still led by Elijah Wood as Frodo amd Ian McKellen as Gandalf, the rest of the movie flows gracefully. The visualization of the ents was a bit less impressive than I had hoped for, but the panoramic sweep and visual splendor of the action in scenes like the battle of Helms Deep, the battle of Isengard, and Frodo and Sam traveling through the Dead Marshes easily made up for it.
There are significant changes in the story. Without going into spoilers, the main one is that Frodo and Sam take a side trip they didn’t take in the book, and at the end of the movie they have not yet reached Cirith Ungol, which is where Tolkien left them (in a cliffhanger) at the end of the book. That episode will presumably be entirely in the final chapter, which is fitting since it is the shortest of the three volumes – very short indeed if Jackson chooses to omit the final anti-climactic episode in the Shire. There is also an added romantic subplot, with the elf Arwen (Liv Tyler) and the Rohannan princess Eowyn (Miranda Otto) both falling in love with Aragorn (Viggo Mortenson).
Overall, the film is not to be missed for anyone who enjoyed the first installment and even those, including myself, who thought it mildly disappointing.