Peter Jackson does the unthinkable... again. He massages the transitional book of Tolkein’s trilogy into a grand and thrilling spectacle that stands on its own as well as forming the middle third of a towering saga.He keeps alive the threads of all the major characters from the first film (down even to the Ring Wraiths) and makes time for some new ones, notably Bernard Hill’s Shakespearean King Théoden, Éowyn (Miranda Otto, whose early feistiness fades too quickly, but will hopefully resurface in the third film) and a marvellously fluid Gollum (CGI, choreographed and voiced by Andy Serkis).
Elijah Wood, in another fine understated performance, brings out the pernicious impact of the Ring on his psyche. Simultaneously, he shows up George Lucas’s hammer-stroke development of Anakin Skywalker through the current Star Wars trilogy.
The Helm’s Deep battle impresses as a technical achievement, but it’s almost at the expense of the Ents’ overthrow of Saruman and Isengard, which should have added emotional impact from demonstrating the might of nature. And Jackson’s “men” of Middle-Earth come too close to stereotypical medieval movie peasants to hold much wonder.But I’m clutching at flaws - The Return of the King now has even more to live up to than I thought possible.