The epic premiere introduces a whole slew of well-developed characters across multiple races with several mysteries, sinister threats and a sense of purpose that will surely unite them all.
One of the most anticipated premieres in history, fans of Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy were wondering if this would be a worthy successor to his masterpiece, while still others were convinced it was trash before they saw a single frame.
Add to that the fact that Amazon pumped a literal billion dollars into a five-year plan for the series based on appendixes and “The Silmarillion” and other peripheral stories, and there was some concern that the show’s creators wouldn’t be able to hang a cohesive story onto all that lore.
With a massive budge and a massive cast, it was an undertaking as daunting as when Peter Jackson first decided to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s iconic fantasy trilogy that laid the template for the genre that everything from “Game of Thrones” to “The Wheel of Time” have followed. And like Jackson’s effort, there were many doubters before it’s release.
Basically, there were two directions this could go. It could go the way of the original “Lord of the Rings” adaptation, which was a huge commercial and critical success, still holding as part of a tie for most Oscars won by a single film for its final entry.
Or it could go the way of the ill-fated “The Hobbit” trilogy that took a short children’s story and turned it into a three-film disaster that was drowning in its own excess.
Thankfully, “The Rings of Power” is definitely leaning more towards Jackson’s initial efforts. In fact, aside from leaning a little too hard on that influence in the early parts of its first episode, this new saga is setting itself up to be one of the best fantasy sagas put to film.
Certainly, the budget can be seen in the special effects, the sets and costuming and all of those details that make this look like a cinema-quality exploring of a real world that’s fully lived in by its inhabitants.
Be warned, from here on out there will be plenty of SPOILERS for the first two episodes of “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.”
On top of that, the casting was fantastic, with a driven Morfydd Clark breathing believable new life into a younger, harder and perhaps a little bit obsessed Galadriel, and a curious Markella Kavenagh as Nori, a member of hobbit precursor race the harfoots.
Whereas Jackson, and Tolkien retroactively, were criticized for the lack of prominent female roles in the original “Lord of the Rings” story, this new take is keeping women prominently featured in several of the settings these opening chapters are taking place.
Most of the story is divided into four storylines, which by the end of the second episode involve all four of the major races of Middle-earth. Galadriel is the lead of her own story, which ultimately ties her fate to that of a human.
Meanwhile, Elrond, played with less intensity than Hugo Weaving (but you can see it coming) by Robert Aramayo, finds himself seeking the aid of the dwarf realm and his old friend. Dwarves don’t make an appearance until the second episode, and we have to talk about how well they’re balanced here.
Dwarves have always been played for a bit of comic relief in Middle-earth, with Gimli providing plenty of moments of levity even in the darkest moments of the original trilogy. In “The Hobbit,” though, they were played for laughs to a cartoonish degree.
There is some truth to this from the source material, but even the book didn’t go as over-the-top as “The Hobbit” films did. We were pleased to see that grumpy playfulness in full effect here, but also that serious side in Peter Mullan’s Durin III.
When he rejected Elrond outright and was ready to banish him from the kingdom without hearing him out, we loved that the reason was that his feelings were hurt because his friend had basically missed the last 20 years of his life. Time passes differently for elves and dwarves. That moment felt authentic and real, as did their slow reconciliation over dinner.
The harfoots are standing in for hobbits in this earlier era. Rather than being settled in their homes under the dirt, these small folk are migrant travelers. But otherwise, they have that same disheveled whimsy and charm that the hobbits did.
Their connection to the larger story seems to have everything to do with the most unexpected moment of the premiere, and the unusual newcomer to their neck of the woods.
And then there is men. This is another place where races meet, as the elves have been keeping an eye over a particular village of men for decades (at least elf Arondir has been keeping watch for 79 years). These men were apparently under Sauron at one time, so most elves don’t trust them.
Arondir does, inasmuch as he is falling for one of these humans, despite their short lives, in one of many parallels to the original stories. Brownyn is the woman he’s fallen for, another strong female character played with grit by Nazanin Boniadi.
A mother, she almost seems to act as the caretaker for her entire village. Certainly, they all look like a bunch of dimwits while she immediately stands out for her beauty and confidence.
Unfortunately for the men, their story appears to be where the darkness is making its return to Middle-earth in the form of orcs lurking underground. The danger rises literally in Brownyn’s home, but it’s also lurking in her son Theo (Tyroe Muafidin), thanks to a sword he found.
While we were hoping for more intensity from Elrond, we got that and more (almost too much) in Ismael Cruz Cordova’s Arondir. He plays the elfin warrior like a cold soldier, and yet we are supposed to believe that not only is he smitten with Bronwyn, but she is drawn to him. We’ve seen no softness in him at all just yet.
Considering it’s been two decades since Peter Jackson’s trilogy first hit theaters, showruners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay didn’t need to try so hard to make sure this was recognizable to fans of the original trilogy. It reminded us in the early scenes of how “The Force Awakens” was just “A New Hope” with new skin.
We had a dramatic voice-over at the top laying the groundwork for this new/old world. We then saw elves going to war with men and fighting a great evil in an epic battle scene. We even substituted a cave troll for a snow-troll.
That scene wasn’t nearly as effective, though, because the only character we knew anything about was Galadriel, so there was no emotional impact to the troll throwing people around.
From the dramatic opening sequence, we then went to lighter music and introduced the harfoots, with glimpses into their simple lives. Within a few moments, we cut to someone writing in a book … only it wasn’t Bilbo this time but Elrond — and from here, the series thankfully started forging its own path and story.
Remarkably, that’s bout the only complaint. And it may well be that all of it was an intentional nod to Peter Jackson’s work and a tribute to what he accomplished, so we shouldn’t knock it. We’re still going to, but we concede that maybe we shouldn’t.
The best thing about this being an original story is that we don’t already know the major beats of this story. We can guess at some of them from Tolkien’s lore, but there are many pieces that we don’t know. For the sake of this review, we’ll just assume we know nothing but what they’ve given us. Hell, it may be true.
While these two episodes did a great job of fleshing out this era of Middle-earth and populating it with interesting and compelling characters we already want to spend more time with and get to know better — no small feat with a cast this large — it also lured us in with danger and mystery.
The following are most of the things that have us already ready already for the next episode to drop. This is also a nod to the decision to not drop the entire season at one time, because it will keep us tantalized and teased for longer with the week wait between episodes.
Who Is The Man in the Meteor? Perhaps the biggest question is who the man in the meteor is. We have a theory based on a key scene where he spoke to fireflies and convinced them to fly into a certain formation. While everyone saw him fall from the sky, he crashed near the harfoots and Nori found him. He’s older, with a beard and a little gangly. He doesn’t look unlike a somewhat younger Ian McKellan? Could this be Gandalf when he first arrived on Middle-earth? If it’s not him, it’s almost certainly a wizard. There’s been no talk of them yet in this series, but we know they’re a big part of Middle-earth.
What is Lord Celebrimbor’s New Project? Elrond is lured into helping Celebrimbor, the master-smith for elves. He suggest that he’s already designed what he wants to create but he needs a massive tower in order to do it. Most certainly what he’s wanting to create are the titular “Rings of Power,” but as they didn’t make that clear, we’ll just pretend it’s a mstery.
Why Did the Leaf Rot When Galadriel Rejected Valinor? Was it even related, or just a coincidence that we cut to that scene of the High King looking at a leaf that had just fallen and watching it rot. Is it because his fear that her obsession to find and vanquish Sauron will actually help him rise again and become a threat? Is that what’s happening? Or was it a sign to tell him that something went wrong with those elves he’d sent to The Undying Land (including Galadriel) as reward for ending the war … which they did not really end.
How Did the Cow’s Milk Turn to Black Goo? Even if the cow was grazing somewhere near where orcs had been seen, there’s something more going on to make her sick and turn her milk into disgusting black goo. Is the very grass poisoned? Is it more than just orcs, but the very landscape twisted by the presence of this darkness? Does the darkness represent Sauron himself returning?
Where Did the Sword Theo Found Come From? Why Was It Kept? Bronwyn is our hero in the human camp, so why would she have the broken hilt of a sword in a barn — or was that perhaps not her barn? Could it have to do with Theo’s missing father? Was he an agent of Sauron, thus the sword hilt? How did Theo even know it was there?
What Is Hanging Around Halbrand’s Neck? What Are His Intentions? Galadriel was right to be a little wary of this human who let all of his compatriats die from the “worm” in the water that destroyed their ship. At the same time, he did pull Galadriel from the water twice and saved her life (and maybe stole her weapon). Their fates are intertwined now as they’re about to be picked up by a larger ship. But he has something of significance hanging around his neck that he’s being secretive about — actually he’s secretive about a lot of things. Perhaps he’s Theo’s father who ran from his responsibilities to the dark?
What Happened to Horden? This village near where Bronwny’s people are is completely destroyed and on fire, but there are no people. There are tunnels, which leads us to believe orcs probably took everyone for their stew pots. But is that all that happened to this place? They talk about the fissures in the grounds. Is it just orcs digging their way into the village, as they ultimately do beneath Brownwyn’s house, too?
What Does the Meteor Stranger Want? He’s clearly trying to communicate with Nori and her friend Poppy with the fireflies and even by drawing in the dirt. Ultimately, Nori figures he’s showing her unfamiliar constellations, but she thinks she knows how to get answers. Is he trying to say where he’s from or where he needs to go and what he needs to do. If he’s so determined to get somewhere, why is he lingering around the harfoots. If it is Gandalf, is this how he comes to love the halflings, because of the kindness of this one?
Where Is Arondir? He followed a tunnel underground in Horden and found clawmarks on the wall, He was then followed by orcs and ultimately grabbed by a whole slew of them. Are they simply going to try to cook him up and eat him, or will they actually take him somewhere? Perhaps to a leader? We don’t yet know what they’re doing, but we do know that without direction and leadership, they probably wouldn’t be doing all that they’re doing. Someone is steering them.
What Is the Sword Doing to Theo? We assume it’s going to corrupt him, because we know the race of men is easily corrupted. The sword disturbingly pulled blood from his wound to start reforging itself. Bronwyn called him to leave with the rest of the fleeing villagers, so we don’t know if it fully reforged or if it may need more blood for that. Will Theo be completely corrupted by darkness? Will it leave him an independent agent, or somehow tie him back directly to Sauron? Talk about a danger brutally close to someone as this is Bronwyn’s child.
What Secret Is Durin III Holding in That Small Chest? Durin IV is the one who had his feelings hurt by Elrond. He is the prince right now, with is father Durin III the king. It was suggested that while Durin III feared Elrond was holding something back, that the dwarves definitely are. He then opened a chest. But if Celebrimbor is just now thinking of forging the rings of power, then what’s in the box? And how will it inevitably make things much worse.
“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” is off to a fantastically compelling start with great characters, an intriguing plot and multiple dangers lurking in every corner. New episodes drop every Friday on Amazon Prime Video.