Although both Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson have worked tirelessly to establish themselves in the indie and arthouse scene post-Twilight, and both have garnered widespread critical recognition for their work there, mainstream audiences haven’t been so kind to either actor. Pattinson, ironically, had to take a major superhero franchise role before people were finally willing to accept that he’s matured as an actor. And while Stewart certainly isn’t struggling to find work, she deserves – and is consistently denied – the same generosity that people showed to Pattinson when he was cast as Batman.
But if any non-franchise role can be considered equivalent to Batman, it would be Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales. Decades after her death, she is still just as widely-adored by the public as she was in her lifetime, and any piece of media that deals with her story inevitably becomes the subject of online chatter, heated debate, and intense scrutiny. So when Spencer was announced, and Kristen Stewart was cast in the titular role, that should have been Stewart’s Batman moment. And…it wasn’t. A lot of people dismissed her out of hand because they only know her from Twilight.
Today, a very brief teaser trailer for Spencer was released. It could arguably have done more to showcase Stewart herself, and the work she’s clearly putting into capturing all the facets of Princess Diana, but it got people talking. And for once, they actually had something nice to say about Kristen Stewart. That could just be the Princess Diana love talking, but it seems to me that general audiences – or at least social media – has caught wind of what many Hollywood insiders have recently started reporting: that with Spencer, Kristen Stewart is well on her way towards her very first Academy Award. And just like that, all her haters are suddenly real quiet.
I mean, Spencer looks like classic awards season fare. The dreamy cinematography and faded color palette give it the look of an old family photo-album; a perfect aesthetic to capture for a film that deals with the breakdown of Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ marriage in the early 1990’s, and their eventual separation. It comes from Pablo Lerraín, who previously directed the Oscar-nominated biopic Jackie about Jacqueline Kennedy. I think at the very least, Stewart will be nominated – just as Natalie Portman was for Jackie. But if the Academy feels that she’s waited long enough for the recognition she deserves, this could be the perfect moment for her.
Honestly, Stewart’s waited too long at this point. Although she garnered some buzz for Seberg in 2019, it’s been several years since her last serious awards season campaign with Clouds Of Sils Maria, which did earn her a number of awards nominations (the majority from regional critics associations) and several wins – including the first César Award ever presented to an American actress. Spencer is a strong comeback, especially following a few attempts at more mainstream action movies that, while unsuccessful at the box-office, did get Stewart back into the spotlight – right where she needs to be, heading into awards season. She played the long game, and it might pay off in Oscar gold.
Now obviously, we’ll need to see her performance in Spencer before we jump to conclusions – and it’s frustrating that this first teaser is more about setting the mood than it is about highlighting Stewart’s portrayal of Diana. For example, although attendees at CinemaCon who saw a longer trailer are adamant that Stewart’s Princess Diana accent is spot-on, it’s impossible for me to say the same when this teaser only has her speak two words. But I’m a big Kristen Stewart fan, so I’m willing to believe her accent is impeccable and her acting is incredible.
Last night’s Oscars ceremony was on the brink of teetering off the edge and into the dustbin of history when suddenly, after a long string of tired and predictable winners took the stage to repeat virtually the same speeches they had been using all throughout awards season, the event righted itself and took a wild turn: with the shocking upset victory of Parasite in both the Best Director and Best Picture categories, the 92nd Academy Awards were able to make a groundbreaking advancement in movie history.
As we knew going into the ceremony (which got off to a bad start, with the frigid temperature and heavy rain-showers forcing the celebrities into the building at breakneck speed), the field of candidates was dominated by white men – though the long list of snubbed women directors still managed to attend the ceremony, as names embroidered on Natalie Portman’s dress. But in some categories, the few diverse nominees were able to sneak in some surprising wins: Matthew Cherry took home a long-awaited Oscar for the adorable animated short Hair Love, which celebrates natural black hair; and Taika Waititi became the first indigenous filmmaker to win an Oscar, claiming the award for Best Adapted Screenplay for his anti-fascist satire, JoJo Rabbit. Bong Joon-ho and the crew of Parasite also won Best Original Screenplay and Best International Film, giving the South Korean drama a total of four wins: the most of any film last night.
Joker, the dark and dour supervillain story that danced into the ceremony with a whopping eleven nominations, only walked out with two wins, both in categories where it was expected to win: Best Lead Actor went to Joaquin Phoenix, thus making him the second actor to win an Academy Award for his portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime; and Best Original Score was presented to Hildur Guðnadòttir.
Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s joint work on “I’m Gonna Love Me Again” from the Elton John biopic Rocketman made them clear winners in the Best Original Song category, but the other contenders put on a good show: Idina Menzel, AURORA, and several Frozen II voice actresses from around the world sang “Into The Unknown”, while Cynthia Erivo and a chorus of back-up singers delivered a rousing rendition of “Stand Up” from Harriet. Then there was Randy Newman, with whatever the song was from Toy Story 4 (which somehow won Best Animated Feature in a year when Netflix’s Klaus was showing off the simple beauty of 2D animation). Three other musical numbers, unaffiliated with any film, were sprinkled throughout the ceremony: Janelle Monae and Billy Porter opened the night’s proceedings with a rousing, sparkly cover of “It’s A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood”, which also featured dancers dressed as characters from some of the past year’s snubbed films, including Us and Midsommar; Eminem made a surprise appearance to perform “Lose Yourself” to an audience who clearly had no idea how to react – and those that did, namely Idina Menzel and Martin Scorsese, soon found themselves trending for their shocked and disturbed expressions; and finally, young Grammy-winner Billie Eilish performed a moving cover of “Yesterday” while the In Memoriam tribute video played – a video which, as expected, left out a couple of notable deceased celebrities.
Politics were briefly addressed, with Brad Pitt throwing jabs at the U.S. Senate in his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (one of only two awards the critical darling picked up, the other being Best Production Design), and Joaquin Phoenix making time for a warning about the dangers of climate change, and the importance of environmentalism. But many of the winners and presenters were more concerned with poking fun at their own business – there was no more scathing example of this than when James Corden and Rebel Wilson, two prominent members of the cast of the box-office flop and movie monstrosity Cats, ironically had to present the award for Best Visual Effects to 1917 while wearing cat-suits and making sarcastic puns.
The major categories were looking like a straight-up copy-and-paste of the Golden Globes winners (to nobody’s surprise, Renée Zellweger won Best Leading Actress for her transformative role as Judy Garland in Judy, while Laura Dern closed out her award-season romp with a Best Supporting Actress award for her fan-favorite role as a divorce lawyer in Marriage Story: Netflix’s only consolation prize for being snubbed and soundly defeated in every other category), right up until Best Director. The award had been expected to basically throw itself into the arms of Sam Mendes, whose continuous-take gimmick for 1917 has been a subject of much debate this awards season (and had, just moments before, won Roger Deakins a Best Cinematography Oscar), but there was also room for Quentin Tarantino to eke out a surprise victory: but it was Bong Joon-ho who claimed this award, and then led South Korea to its first ever Best Picture win – Parasite, a drama about class divides and economic crisis, also made history as the first non-English feature film to win the highest honor at the ceremony. Bong Joon-ho’s fanbase, who call themselves the “BongHive” on social media, celebrated the film’s success around the world, while Joon-ho himself finally got to have the drink that he kept asking for throughout the night.
Was it a perfect ceremony? No. The event was downright predictable for most of its extremely long runtime, and there was a tired aura in the air: perhaps brought on by the bad weather, or an unmemorable red carpet walk. But did it also break new ground and pave the way for a greater acceptance of international filmmaking in Hollywood? Let’s hope so.
As the 2020 Oscars race heats up, and more and more actors throw their hats into the ring for a chance to take home the gold, we can be assured of one thing: Robert Downey Jr., the star of Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame, won’t be among the contenders at next year’s ceremony.
RDJ has been one of the most talked-about and hyped-up candidates for the Best Actor award, but despite the anger and outrage of fans, despite all the petitions in the world, the veteran actor has made it clear that he is not going to make a move for the prize: in a recent interview with Howard Stern, Downey rather vaguely suggested that he didn’t feel it was the right thing to do. “There was some talk about [an Oscar campaign], and I said, “let’s not”.”
Downey didn’t give any specific reasoning for his choice, and it seems particularly surprising given how hotly anticipated his campaign already was in the media: Avengers: Endgame directors Joe and Anthony Russo, along with Iron Man director Jon Favreau, had both publicly given Downey their support in the race, and millions of Marvel fans were completely behind the idea. Whether or not the Academy Awards would have recognized Downey’s position as the figurehead of one of Hollywood’s biggest and most fortunate film studios for the past decade is a question we now have no way of answering: but why? What could have inspired Downey to back away from the finish line when it seemed so close?
Well, obviously, his choice could be entirely personal. It’s possible he has better things to do with his time than try to win a shiny gold trophy. But it’s also possible that Downey recognizes an unfortunate trend in modern Hollywood, and has made his choice to avoid courting controversy and stirring up trouble: what I’m trying to say is that the Academy Awards simply might not want to give such a prestigious award to the star of a superhero movie.
The discussion we are having now has been the subject of a great number of essays, articles and opinion pieces in the past few days: it started a long time ago actually, but acclaimed director Martin Scorsese’s recent comments have made everyone sit up and take notice yet again. While promoting his new film The Irishman, Scorsese claimed that, despite having never watched a Marvel movie (he “tried”, to be fair), he believes that the films are “not cinema”, adding that “Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” Scorsese’s controversial comments quickly riled up the internet – Marvel directors and actors responded in various different ways, from James Gunn being “saddened” to Samuel L. Jackson bluntly pointing out that “Everybody doesn’t like his stuff either”. As for Downey himself, he was cool about the whole subject, saying that, while Scorsese’s insult “makes no sense”, he still respects and appreciates the director’s opinion. But he’s also not going to intentionally upset the other filmmakers and Academy members who agree with Scorsese, by campaigning for an Oscar. Because there are others: many others, in fact. And The Hollywood Reporter has turned a spotlight on them in a fascinating new article published just today.
The article has nothing to do with Robert Downey Jr., or even Scorsese: instead, it’s about another comic book movie making headlines right now – that being Joker. A gritty, realistic approach to the genre (and unabashedly inspired by the works of Martin Scorsese, in fact), the supervillain origin story has generated plenty of Oscar buzz already, with critics praising Joaquin Phoenix’s intense performance. But today, Academy Award voters were asked to anonymously contribute their opinions on the film, and on the genre as a whole: and their responses confirm that Scorsese is not alone in his beliefs. Several stated that comic book movies hold zero interest for them, with some even pointedly referencing Scorsese’s comments in their rebuttals of the film – and as for the one who said that we live in an age of “sanitized, shrink-wrapped cinema”, well, I don’t know if he was referring specifically to comic book movies, but I can’t imagine his opinion of those is good. Some of them didn’t even have plans to see the film at all, or were reluctant to see it for a variety of reasons; some logical (security concerns), or illogical (comic book movies suck).
And these are Academy voters: the men and women who will decide who takes home the biggest awards in the entertainment industry. Are they biased? Yes, some of them are undoubtedly biased. A large number of them might be voting against movies that they haven’t even watched. Are they right in their condemnations of modern cinema – do superhero movies deserve to be called cinema at all, or are they nothing more than flashy merchandising ploys? That’s for you to decide. But imagine if Robert Downey Jr. were to step into this arena and even try to launch a campaign for Best Actor. There’s a strong chance he wouldn’t win, and his efforts would most likely be laughed at behind his back – the fact that Joker is still considered by many to be an Oscar darling, even after the reactions from those voters, just goes to show how badly superhero movies are usually treated by the industry. As frustrating as it is, the Academy’s electoral process is not fair; not by a long shot. Downey is probably better off steering far clear of all these shenanigans, and instead focusing on the things that matter to him – such as his plan to help clean up the environment using high-tech robotics.
So that’s that: Downey has made his choice. The Academy will probably end up nominating Joaquin Phoenix for Best Actor in his stead, but it’s not a sure bet that he’ll win either. Avengers: Endgame, which is up for several other awards (including Best Picture and Best Director) is also an underdog going into this highly competitive fight to the death. And so we have to consider whether or not Black Panther, which won a considerable number of Oscars at this year’s ceremony, really was a fluke after all: did it signal a change, as we all thought at the time, or was it merely a cheap publicity stunt?
I leave the question for you to answer: how biased is the entertainment industry against comic book movies? Could RDJ have won an Oscar, if he had run? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
Happy Hobbit Day to all of my readers! Today, we celebrate the shared birthdays of hobbit heroes Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, chief protagonists of the fictional world of Middle-earth (you know, unless you’re counting the heroes of TheSilmarillion, like Beren, Tuor, Húrin and Túrin, Lúthien Tinúviel, Eärendil, and so on). And because this is a movie blog, and not a book blog, I will be discussing The Lord Of The Rings movies rather than The Lord of the Rings novels in this post. Typically, I would only consider writing an extensively long post about a movie I disliked, but I have so much to say about these films, and so much of it is good (actually, almost all of it is good).
The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, the second film in the classic trilogy, is currently available to stream on Netflix: here’s my review. I’m not going to be doing my usual hardcore fan-frenzy, where everything I write about the trilogy is unintelligible screaming, sobbing and wailing. Instead, I am going to write about the movie in a clear, concise way – with only a minimal amount of sobbing.
Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to try and downplay the degree to which these films truly are movie-making masterpieces. The Two Towers is probably the most overlooked and underrated installment in the trilogy, but it still boasts more than most movies can: critics almost unanimously praised it for its epic scope and groundbreaking technology, while the Academy Awards rewarded it for special effects and sound editing (it was also nominated in four other categories, including Best Picture). Audiences loved it, making it the highest-grossing film of 2002, and, for a while, one of the highest-grossing films of all time. It was confirmation, if any was needed, that what had begun with The Fellowship Of The Ring a year earlier was not a fluke: the fantasy genre had redefined itself, stepping away from the shackles of sword-and-sorcery, and become a new, unique form of entertainment – critics debated endlessly at the time about whether it classified as “lowbrow” or “middlebrow” (since, obviously, “highbrow” was out of the question) and it would take another year before The Return Of The King won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, cementing the series in cinematic history and establishing the genre as a respected art-form. But unfortunately, The Two Towers has always been stuck in between its two milestone siblings: it was a crucial step in the process, but it tends to get ignored for that reason. What it did achieve, singularly, is just as important: Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance as the miserable creature Gollum, one of the first of its kind, was a stepping stone in modern CGI techniques – for more on that fascinating discussion, see here. It also led to the creation of the MASSIVE crowd-simulation technique, which is still used to this day on projects such as Avengers: Endgame and Game Of Thrones. These days, director Peter Jackson is a rather more unpredictable commodity, having largely withdrawn from the world of mainstream film-making: he is supposedly still working on a sequel for The Adventures Of Tintin (as of 2016, at any rate), and he’s working on a documentary about the Beatles, but his most recent venture, Mortal Engines, was a discouraging box-office disaster. So it’s worth looking back at the director’s heyday for a glimpse of what Jackson can be at his best, and what he can hopefully be again in the near future.
The Two Towers is a spectacular and daring film, and it’s one of the rare films that can appeal to book-readers and general audiences alike, balancing humor and drama almost perfectly, allowing a vast ensemble cast to shine in ways that shouldn’t be possible – even modern Avengers movies have struggled to balance screentime for their sprawling casts: The Two Towers is a great example of how it can be done well. The intricacy with which subplots and story-threads are woven together, the themes brought to life through Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens’ script (we’ll talk more about those later), Jackson’s incredible camera-work: not to mention Howard Shore’s phenomenal score – which is used to great effect throughout the film, but most notably in the Fangorn Forest scenes, the arrival of the Elves at Helm’s Deep, and the last march of the Ents. And at the very end, as Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) monologues about the stories that really matter, and a world worth fighting for, it’s Shore’s score, a grandiose variant on his iconic “Shire Theme”, even more than the narration and the montage of hope triumphing over despair, that brings me to tears every time I watch Two Towers. This score was not nominated for an Oscar because of a long-standing Academy-rule forbidding sequel scores which reuse old themes: a rule that was rewritten a year later to allow Shore’s Return of the King score to win not one, but two Academy Awards. Shore’s score, the most thematically complex in film history, is a true work of genius: even when Two Towers‘ script fails to fully address the theme, hugely important in Tolkien’s original novels, of the earth itself fighting back against those who would seek to destroy it and harvest it for their own gain, Shore’s “Nature’s Reclamation” theme reinforces this message at critical moments, making sure that we are always subtly aware of it.
And that’s just behind the scenes talent. In front of the camera, Elijah Wood’s wide-eyed Frodo Baggins is the underrated MVP of Middle-earth, and his Two Towers story arc is pure gold: he and Samwise Gamgee, leaving behind their friends in the Fellowship of the Ring, set out towards the land of Mordor, searching for a way into the impenetrable realm of shadow and ash – but when they come face-to-face with the wretched Gollum, previous owner of Frodo’s Ring, everything changes. Frodo sees in Gollum a twisted reflection of himself, a terrifying vision of the reality which could befall him if he succumbs to the daily temptation of the One Ring. He reaches out to Gollum with small, simple acts of mercy – which includes calling him by his long-forgotten true name, Sméagol. He has to believe he can save Gollum, because he has to believe he can save himself. As a rift grows between Frodo and the suspicious Sam (who is technically right for mistrusting Gollum, but doesn’t realize he’s basically paralyzing Frodo with fear every time he says there’s no way to save the wicked, scheming creature), Gollum is slowly being forced out of his own stolen body by Sméagol, who succeeds in establishing a tentative control over himself for barely a day or two, before Frodo’s “betrayal” under Faramir’s orders causes him to slip: the terror in Sméagol’s eyes when Frodo leads him into a trap, his sudden realization that Gollum is back, and stronger, is absolutely heartbreaking. Frodo and Gollum are both victims and abusers of the Ring’s power, intertwined in a tragic spiral: there is poetry in parallels, such as when a scene at the beginning of Two Towers, where Frodo draws his sword on Gollum to protect Sam, is mirrored by a scene at the end where he threatens to kill Sam to protect his Ring. And it’s up to Wood and Serkis, especially, to sell this storyline, and they do it: Astin is not a perfect Samwise, by any means (his line-delivery, especially, is…questionable in dramatic scenes), but he is also an important member of this loyalty triangle, and he manages to do just enough good in the role to excuse his flaws.
On the other side of the Middle-earth map, the story is largely Aragorn-centric, but Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal of the reluctant warrior-king is at its most subdued here, and he delivers less of the Fellowship smolder, and almost none of the crowd-pleasing Return of the King rallying cries. This isn’t a fault of Mortensen’s performance, he’s still excellent, but it does allow his supporting cast to get some more time to shine – especially, unexpectedly, King Théoden (Bernard Hill) and his counselor, Gríma Wormtongue (Brad Dourif). Somehow, it is these two who stand out the most to me on rewatches of Two Towers, for a variety of reasons: Dourif, for his obvious pleasure in embodying this sickly, conniving character, who appears almost as a parallel to Serkis’ Gollum; the role could so easily have been played melodramatically, with Wormtongue laughing maniacally and expositing his evil plans – but instead, Dourif pulls his punches, letting his physical acting speak for itself. He is pathetic, a coward, and an utterly despicable traitor: but he feels like a legitimate threat at all times, even when he’s knocked down and bleeding. And as for his liege-lord, Théoden, he is a bare husk of a man when we first see him, shrunken in his mighty throne, devoured by age (strengthening his niece Éowyn’s fears that age and immobility will also claim her if she stays at home and rots while the men of her kingdom fight). But when Bernard Hill comes alive, through some CGI wizardry, and takes back his sword, it’s a spark of hope: up until that moment, Two Towers moves slowly, uncertainly, meandering through several subplots with no clear purpose – the moment Hill moves, the film suddenly moves as well, and finds focus. And Hill’s performance continues to be a highlight of the film right up to his desperate charge from the gates of Helm’s Deep. While his character was rather betrayed by the screenwriters in Return of the King, I can hold onto this Théoden as the definitive onscreen version of the noble king. Flawed, displaying a Shakespearean grief, Théoden is a man forced to fight a war that should, in a perfect world, have been fought by his son – who was cruelly stricken down in his youth. Sam’s line later in the film about how “by rights, we shouldn’t even be here” applies to the King as well: he shouldn’t be there, on the front lines, sacrificing his last hard-won years on the earth to defend his kingdom from destruction – but there he is, and he will do anything to keep his people safe.
Unfortunately, this is more a testament to Hill’s strength as an actor, and less of a compliment to the script, which tries its best to frame Théoden as a well-intentioned but naive military leader, whose plans to lead his people to safety at Helm’s Deep will ultimately backfire when it leads a caravan of women and children into harm’s way. Thankfully, in this scene, Aragorn is there to save the day and right Théoden’s wrongs.
And that’s a problem that the movie often runs into, trying to pose Aragorn as the answer to all of Middle-earth’s problems, and the sole salvation for the human race. In Tolkien’s novels, this is not the case: yes, Aragorn is in a class of his own, but never to the point where his fellow humans feel like they’re not doing their part to save the world – in the books, Théoden is more than willing to ride out to war, and doesn’t waste time worrying about petty grievances Gondor may or may not have caused in the far-distant past; and in the books, Faramir, here played by David Wenham, is completely different from how we see him onscreen. In Jackson’s version of events, an antagonist is needed to disrupt Frodo, Sam and Gollum’s story from its forward motion, and that antagonist is Faramir: who, in Tolkien’s version, is a quiet, mild-mannered pacifist who is not only a trustworthy ally but a good friend. Here, Wenham (who had never read the books before taking on the role) does his level best to make Faramir unsympathetic and unrelenting, threatening the hobbits on multiple occasions, dragging them as prisoners toward his even more tyrannical father, and nearly falling victim to the Ring. In the film’s Extended Edition, a great deal of Tolkien-derived backstory is glimpsed for Faramir, including his desire to have his father notice him and recognize his great deeds: sadly, we see none of that in the theatrical edition, which is the one I’m reviewing here. Instead, what we get is a low-key villain who appears to maybe be conflicted about what he’s doing, but does it nonetheless. This is one of the biggest crimes of The Two Towers, especially since Faramir, on the page, was the character who most closely embodied all of Tolkien’s own beliefs and philosophies, and whose “sea-green incorruptible nature”, as Philippa Boyens once put it, was supposed to serve as a reason for readers to place their hopes in the faith of Men. But no, we’ve got Aragorn to do that – you know, the guy who, according to Jackson, doesn’t even like being a human and wishes he were one of the Elven-folk (for the record, that change to Aragorn’s character is interesting, but it only increases the need for Faramir to be good).
Anyway, while there is some justification for the butchering of Faramir, there isn’t any for the drastic alterations to the character of Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies): one of the giant, mysterious Ents who inhabit Fangorn Forest, Treebeard is the shepherd of the trees, a sorrowing remnant of an ancient world, one who remembers the splendor of the forests of old and is watching as his last corner of the world shrinks under the axes of orcs and the mechanisms of the White Wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee). But in the movies, Treebeard is somehow unaware of Saruman’s evil, despite living a few miles from him, and has to be tricked by Pippin Took (Billy Boyd) into seeing the horrors of war firsthand. This one bothers me far more than Faramir, honestly, because (a) it’s completely unnecessary, and (b) having Pippin be the one to outsmart Treebeard only makes the forest-giant look even more stupid, considering that Pippin is not known as the brightest member of the Fellowship. This was justified as a way for Merry and Pippin to have some say in events, but again, it could have been avoided: in the books, Merry and Pippin are the deciding factor in Treebeard’s plans to go to war, reminding him that there are good people in the world outside his forest who still love nature, people who are worth fighting and dying for. Reducing that motivation to a cheap trick robs the story of its emotional impact, and misses an opportunity to reinforce the film’s themes.
There is another missed opportunity in Two Towers that baffles me to no end: while Aragorn and his friends are preparing for battle at Helm’s Deep and Frodo and Sam are captives of Faramir, another subplot is introduced, one that initially appears to fit in with the rest of the story – this being the tale of Aragorn and Arwen (Liv Tyler). Arwen first begins appearing through flashbacks and an unconscious dream-sequence, and the audience has to piece together certain events that are…well, vague, to say the least. Arwen’s choice to give up her mortality so she could be with Aragorn should have been that simple, but Jackson chooses to elaborate upon the framework of their romance that Tolkien built – and his attempts to do so get pretty derailed. For some inexplicable reason, it is implied that Arwen’s immortality is bound up with the Evenstar pendant that she gave to Aragorn in Fellowship, but the flashbacks here suggest that, only a short while after she gifted it to him, Aragorn tried to return it to her, telling her that they could never be together, and that he wouldn’t have her die on his account. But he ended up keeping it, because she told him “it was a gift”, and now he starts possibly falling for his temporary traveling companion, Éowyn (Miranda Otto), who definitely has feelings for him: and then he loses the Evenstar, but then he gets it back, and when he does I guess that symbolically renews his love for Arwen – but off in Rivendell, Arwen is teary-eyed and depressed because Elrond (Hugo Weaving) tells her that even if Aragorn does win the war against Sauron, he is still a mortal, and will die eventually. His speech is accompanied by an absolutely beautiful vision pulled straight from the Appendices of the novel, in which a veiled Arwen mourns at Aragorn’s tomb before abandoning the waking world and departing into the forest, never to be seen again. It’s touching stuff, and Arwen is eventually convinced to go away with the rest of Elrond’s people to the Grey Havens, to set sail into the West and preserve her immortality. Except…she already gave that up, didn’t she? What exactly are the mechanics of giving up your immortality? Isn’t that what the pendant is all about? We don’t get to find out in Two Towers, because for whatever reason Jackson chooses to leave that subplot hanging, until it can finally be resolved in the third film. Then, and only then, do we learn that Arwen doesn’t go to the Grey Havens, but has a vision of her own future with Aragorn, and the family they will raise together – a vision which inspires her to turn around, march back to Rivendell, and angrily confront her father with the truth: instead of fleeing, they have to help Middle-earth. They have to reforge The Blade That Was Broken. That would have been an excellent ending for her storyline in Two Towers, and would have been entirely consistent with the film’s themes – but Jackson, once again proving he had no idea what to do with Arwen, chooses to break up the story between the two films. A little cohesion can go a long way, and Arwen’s entire subplot lacks any.
I could go on and on, nitpicking every little alteration to the story and every single detail that breaks with book-canon: Samwise shouldn’t throw precious lembas bread to Frodo while they’re sitting a few feet away from a cliff; even if the old alliances did hold, Rohan wouldn’t be able to send word to Gondor and receive an army of reinforcements within a few hours, as Aragorn suggested; Legolas (Orlando Bloom) mistakenly refers to the Uruk-Hai heading north-east toward Isengard – that one’s especially funny, considering that later in the same movie, excessive screentime is devoted to studying a map of Middle-earth which proves him completely wrong. But talking about these minuscule nuisances would be petty, in the bigger conversation about The Two Towers and what it’s attempting to say.
It’s a story about hope – about finding something to believe in, and to hold onto, even when all around you seems to crumble into ruin. It’s a story about a disunited world coming together to face unspeakable evil, about people realizing that we are all in this life together, and that it’s our duty to defend those who need our help – and that’s why I can’t, for instance, be too mad about the Elves coming to Helm’s Deep to fight alongside the Men of Rohan: because, while it might not be in the books, it still achieves what Tolkien wanted to say, about how we are the stewards of our earth, and, when in dire circumstances, we will stand side-by-side to protect it. In this modern age, a story like that is more essential than ever.
Or, as Samwise Gamgee would put it, it’s a story that really matters.