The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

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Finally, we are at the end… The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. This is my least favorite film in the series. Mostly because things have gotten very dark and aren’t that fun to watch, but also because this movie feels like it has five endings. 

I know many of you are no doubt sad that this series had to end at all. I mean, you must be out there, otherwise the 1000 hour-long extended edition of the trilogy is the most misguided product ever made. For me, the ending of The Lord of the Rings brings both relief and ambivalence. I’m glad I won’t have to watch these again for a good long while, but I concede that this is not the worst thing I’ve ever had to watch.

The Return of the King is an improvement on The Two Towers. The story is more intriguing, though tough to watch at times. Again, I’m most drawn to Frodo, Sam, and Gollum’s journey. The film opens with pre-Gollum Sméagol finding the Ring, giving the audience the rare treat of seeing Andy Serkis in the flesh. From there the trio is shown in present day: Frodo has become more and more possessed by the One Ring, Gollum is sinking further into his madness, and Sam is desperately trying to get both to Mount Doom alive. These scenes are much darker and more tense than in the previous movie. Even knowing Frodo and Sam will survive their journey, I still find myself worried for their safety. This is a testament to Elijah Wood and Sean Astin’s fine acting chops.

I also found myself caring a little bit more about what’s happens on the battlefield in this movie. In The Two Towers we were introduced to Éowyn, a noble woman who spends most of that movie flirting with Arogorn (the titular king). It annoyed me that there are only a handful of women in this story, and that Éowyn appeared to be included just to invent a love triangle to break up the sword fighting. Thankfully she is put to good use in The Return of the King, becoming an unlikely hero on the battlefield with the help of Merry the hobbit.

Look, I totally get that these are excellently made films. They are visually gorgeous, and it’s always nice to watch a movie and see where all the production money went. I’m just not that into this. It’s not my taste in fantasy, and it probably never will be. Would I sit through these again? Yeah, why not. Just don’t expect me to make the suggestion to watch them.

Rating: B

The final Lord of the Rings movie ends on a high, even if it is a long high with the film’s running time coming in at just under three and a half hours. It is worth it though, the last Lord of the Rings film is epic and awesome, just like the first two were. Seeing the journey of Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) come to a conclusion feels like such a relief, but a good one. We had been on this journey with them that lasted two years when it was released in theatres, and even watching them back to back, the films last almost ten hours. The film series is hard to watch at times, but this payoff at the end makes it all worthwhile. There are some problems with this film, namely that it feels like it should end about four times before it actually does.

The film picks up with the Battle of Helm’s Deep being won by the people of Rohan, with some help from Aragorn (Viggo Mortenson), Gimli (John Rhys Davies), Gandalf (Ian McKellan), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and his elf buddies. Aragorn and Gandalf know they need to go to Gondor now to ward off Sauron’s forces. Gondor is the closest land to Mordor so if Sauron’s forces attack, it will likely be there first. Aragorn and Gandalf know they must create a diversion so that Frodo and Sam can finish their journey and sneak into Mount Doom to destroy the ring. Gandalf heads to Gondor first while Aragorn must convince the king of Rohan (Bernard Hill) to come with him and help defend Gondor. He is reluctant to do so as Gondor offered no such help when they were being attacked by Saruman in the last movie. Aragorn must inspire the race of men to follow him into this battle. He is finally ready to embrace his title as the king of Gondor and lead his people into battle. After Gondor is defended, Aragorn and Gandalf decide to attack Mordor head on and give Frodo enough of an opportunity to destroy the ring and save Middle Earth.

This film gives a satisfying conclusion to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. After three long films, it needed to wrap things up nicely, and it does. The only complaint I have about this film is one I mentioned earlier. The last twenty minutes of the film feel a bit tacked on. There is a perfect time to end the film when everyone is bowing to the Hobbits including newly crowned King Aragorn (spoiler alert, the good guys win). It felt like the credits should be rolling right after that. They don’t though, and there are an extra few scenes where we see what happened to the Hobbits and how they are settling back into life at the Shire. There really wasn’t any need to see this. The audience could have assumed the Hobbits went home and lived out their lives, we didn’t really need to see it to believe it happened. The scene where Aragorn is crowned felt like such a perfect time to end it.

That being said, this is still an epic film. That is the best way to describe these films. We actually watched the three Lord of the Rings film in one Sunday and they are heavy viewing, but totally worth it in the end. This is not a series I can watch regularly (it had been about five years since I had watched them all), but when I do I am always impressed with the quality and grand scale of this series. It is a shame the three Hobbit films have tainted the Lord of the Rings legacy somewhat, but not enough that you don’t appreciate these films for what they are. When these films were released, there was very much a Rings vs Star Wars vibe about them as they were released during the time when the Star Wars prequels were coming out. I was always on the side of Star Wars, but you can’t deny that these films are of extremely high quality and a wonder to behold, especially on the big screen.

Rating: A-

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