The Rings of Power’s two-episode premiere may take it a little while to hit its stride, but once it does, it immerses us in a gorgeous fantasy world with a great ensemble and several intriguing subplots

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Premiere Review -- First 2 Episodes

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premieres with two episodes on Prime Video on Sept. 2, 2022, followed by one new episode weekly. Below is a spoiler-free review of the two-episode premiere.

There are few fictional universes that come with greater legacies than the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings and his other novels set in Middle-earth built up a wondrous world, filled with sweeping lore and beloved characters, blazing the trail for every fantasy work that came after it. So, how do you adapt those iconic stories (again) for a TV series? If you’re showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, you… kind of don’t. Prime Video’s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is a unique take, telling something of its own story using a distant time period of the lore that Tolkien mostly laid out in broad strokes. It’s a bold approach, and here fortune has favored it. The two-episode premiere marks a strong start, with breathtaking cinematography, excellent acting, and a story that – after a somewhat labored set-up – shows some serious promise and intrigue.
For all that’s been written about The Rings of Power, from its jaw-dropping budget (a reported $465 million for the eight-episode first season) to the several original characters Payne and McKay created for it, one of the most interesting immediate takeaways is how strongly it makes the case for the multi-episode debut format we’ve seen a lot of streaming services adopt as a hybrid between weekly episodes and a Netflix-style full-season dump. It’s not that the first episode is bad – it’s not – but it spends far too much time on exposition, and telling us where Middle-earth is when we find it. On one hand, that’s understandable; the Second Age, in which The Rings of Power takes place, isn’t nearly as well-known as the Third Age, which is what we saw in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It’s also necessary to quickly lay out some of the key events of the First Age to set the stage for the Second. That’s a ton of ground to cover (even if both episodes clock in at around an hour), and Rings of Power does that effectively right away, but it is a lot to take in, especially if you’re not already a Tolkien expert.
If you are a big Tolkien fan, it’s incredible to see some of these events play out, even in quick flashes. If you’re not, though, the rapid-fire backstory montage and some of the following expository dialogue don’t initially give you much reason to care about these characters, their wars, and this world’s politics as it bounces from various elves, humans, and Harfoots. Despite how beautiful it all is, and how exciting it was to see this era brought to life in such painstaking detail, after the first episode I had some concern that The Rings of Power would become mired in its explanations of the world instead of showing it to us, immersing us in it. The second episode, however, left those fears in the dust.
To give you an idea of the disparity in the two parts of the premiere, this review’s score covers them as a whole, but if I were to score each episode separately, the first would get a 7 (for good) and the second would get a resounding 9 (for amazing). With the set-up out of the way, the second episode is able to plunge us into this world, its relationships, and even play with some of the kind of humor and banter that’s so beloved in The Lord of the Rings.
It helps that the second episode introduces us to Rings of Power’s take on dwarves, specifically husband and wife Prince Durin IV (Owine Arthur) and Disa (Sophia Nomvete), who have the warm, lovely chemistry of the sweetest of long-married couples. Going back to that “telling instead of showing” complaint about the first episode, Episode 2 also does an excellent job of showing us a friendship between Durin and elven lord Elrond (Robert Aramayo) that hints at a long and complicated history, one that I immediately wanted to know more about.
But we’re not just here for the dwarves and elves. The Harfoots (which are one of the three small-in-stature breeds that will eventually all be called Hobbits) are incredibly charming as well, especially Markella Kavenagh as the curious and kindhearted Nori. Her dynamic with Megan Richards’ fellow Harfoot Poppy even gives off some Frodo/Sam vibes, but not so much that it feels like it’s retreading old ground. The Harfoot storyline is also where Rings of Power’s first big mystery – that concerning Daniel Weyman’s mysterious character, referred to only as “The Stranger” in the credits – is able to start dropping breadcrumbs.
Both episodes never cease to be an absolute technical feast in the camerawork, sets, costumes, and music.
The other big subplot at the moment follows the humans (and some of the elves keeping an eye on them) in the Southlands. While it starts slow, the forbidden romance between human healer and mother Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) and Silvan elf Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) adds an extra layer of emotion, and is a nice callback to some of the famous human/elf relationships we’ve seen before.
But even with this absolutely massive ensemble, it’s key that the portrayal of Galadriel works. Not only is she one of the most consistently important characters in Tolkien lore, but it’s made clear very quickly that she’ll essentially be one of our anchors as we move across the Rings of Power’s five planned seasons (we do know she lives through the Second Age, after all). Luckily, Morfydd Clark is an instant star. Even in warrior mode, she seemingly effortlessly channels that ethereal elven energy, but not so much that you don’t root for her when she’s arguing with Aramayo’s endlessly charismatic Elrond. And while the first episode threatens to paint Galadriel as a little one-note (stubborn! hot-headed!), the second starts to reveal how she’ll develop over the course of centuries.
The Lord of the Rings Movies in (Chronological) Order<h3>1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)</h3>
The only potential confusion in the Lord of the Rings-Hobbit timeline comes from the fact that The Hobbit trilogy is set 60 years before The Lord of the Rings, despite being released a decade later.<br><br>
Chronologically, the story kicks off with 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which sees Martin Freeman take on the role of a younger Bilbo Baggins (played by Ian Holm in the LotR trilogy). Gandalf – one of several characters whose stories run through both trilogies — recruits Bilbo to join Thorin (Richard Armitage) and Company to help reclaim the Dwarven kingdom beneath Erebor, aka The Lonely Mountain, that had been sacked by the dragon Smaug. Along the way, Bilbo encounters Gollum for the first time and comes into possession of the One Ring.<h3>2. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)</h3>
Thorin and Company continue their journey toward The Lonely Mountain, fending off giant spiders and orcs along the way. Orlando Bloom’s Legolas (another LotR staple) joins the fray alongside newcomer Tauriel (played by Ant-Man’s Evangeline Lilly). While the company reaches Esgaroth, a lake-town south of Erebor, Bilbo descends into the mountain, where he encounters Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Smaug ultimately leaves his lair and departs for Esgaroth, setting up the conclusion of The Hobbit trilogy.<h3>3. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)</h3>
The conflict with Smaug is resolved and the film’s titular battle ensues involving the armies of men, dwarves, elves, and two tribes of orcs. We’re being extra vague here as The Battle of the Five Armies is ripe with resolution (and therefore spoilers), but prepare for an action-heavy film that ultimately leaves off where The Lord of the Rings trilogy begins: back at the Shire, 60 years later, as Gandalf visits Bilbo on his 111th birthday.<h3>4. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)</h3>
The first Middle-earth film by release date (and the fourth chronologically) is 2001’s The Fellowship of the Ring. The perspective shifts from Bilbo to his much-younger cousin Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood). Following some exposition that sets up the current state of affairs in Middle-earth, we return to Bilbo’s 111th birthday celebration in the Shire.<br><br>
Bilbo departs on one last adventure, leaving the One Ring with Frodo; Gandalf warns Frodo he must leave the Shire, as Sauron (the Lord of the Rings) and his evil cronies — specifically the Nazgûl, a host of nine horse-mounted wraiths — will be coming for the ring. Frodo departs the Shire with his best friend, Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin), along with fellow hobbits Merry and Pippen.<br><br>
After some perilous travel and character introductions, including Aragorn (Mortensen), Legolas (Bloom), and Saruman (Christopher Lee), a plan is devised to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mordor's Mount Doom, where the Rings of Power were forged. The plan is to be carried out by a ragtag group dubbed the Fellowship of the Ring: the wizard Gandalf; the hobbits Frodo, Samwise, Merry, and Pippen; the elf Legolas; the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies); and humans Aragorn and Boromir (Sean Bean).<br><br>
A treacherous journey leads them to Lothlórien, an Elven realm ruled by Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel, who also appears throughout The Hobbit trilogy and is one of the main protagonists of the new Amazon series (this younger version of Galadriel is played by Morfydd Clark). Galadriel advises Frodo, and he decides to continue his journey to Mordor without the others, bringing only his most trusted confidant, Sam.<h3>5. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)</h3>
Frodo and Sam take on a third, reluctant travel companion in Gollum (voiced by Andy Serkis), a hobbit long ago corrupted by the power of the One Ring. The trio makes it to the outskirts of Mordor, though are stalled by an unforeseen intervention. The other members of the Fellowship embark on a rescue mission; Gandalf takes a new form; and the trilogy’s first epic battle occurs in the gorge of Helm’s Deep.<h3>6. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)</h3>
As with The Battle of the Five Armies, The Return of the King’s plot is essentially all spoilers, so we’ll again highlight only the broadest story beats. Gollum, exploiting the influence of the Ring, pits Frodo against Sam and leads the former into the lair of a deadly foe. The other members of the Fellowship, meanwhile, partake in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields — a massive, final fight against the dark forces of Sauron.<br><br>
Frodo and Sam ultimately enter Mordor in disguise and, with help from the other members of the Fellowship, see the original plan through. With the journey concluded, we enter the Fourth Age of Middle-earth and are treated to a bittersweet finale.
Through it all, both episodes never cease to be an absolute technical feast in the camerawork, sets, costumes, and music. That’s not a huge surprise given its astronomical budget (adjusted for inflation, these eight episodes cost three times the budget of 2001’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring), but it’s gotta be said: it’s not only one of the most gorgeous TV shows I’ve ever seen, it goes toe-to-toe with most big-screen blockbusters. What’s stunning about the cinematography isn’t just how meticulously it captures the diverse geography of Middle-earth, from snowy mountaintops to the bustling Khazad-dûm, but how it so intimately zeroes in on the actors’ faces during important conversations. When Galadriel and Elrond are having a heated discussion, the camera catches Clark’s lip twitch ever-so slightly as she grows agitated while trying to maintain her composure. The same can be said for Bear McCreary’s sweeping score, as admirable in its loud, epic, adventure-filled moments as it is in those aforementioned quieter ones.
Speaking of adventure, there is a good amount of action in these first two episodes, and it’s where I grew to really appreciate Rings of Power’s use of practical effects (as opposed to The Hobbit movies’ wacky over-reliance on digital). The few beasts that we see here look fantastic and, at times, suitably scary. While there’s a brief shot of Galadriel leaping through the air that looks a little goofy in the first episode, the second had a close-quarters sequence with other characters that featured much better fight choreography, making me interested to see what kind of combat styles we’ll see throughout the course of the series.
This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Alex Stedman

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