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

Return of the King

“Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?”

I’ve concluded the trilogy, making this the first full trilogy of films that I’ve written about. Lord of the Rings has always been an epic accomplishment in my mind, and I’m glad I got the chance to watch them again. If I were to watch these movies another time, I think I would want to read the books first. There are far too many details casually mentioned and then later referenced with plot significance that I constantly asked myself if I had missed something while watching this final installment. Maybe that’s on me, or maybe it’s on the film itself. Regardless, I really liked Return of the King.

The concluding film of the saga follows the final lap of Frodo’s adventure to bring the One Ring to Mordor to toss it into a volcano. I think this is the clear centerpiece of the movie, the part that I’m most excited to watch, but a lot of other things happen as well. Aragorn rises to the occasion to become the leader he was destined to be. Mary and Pippin fight a few things. Sometimes the elves look wistfully past the camera, concerned about something or another. It’s a big, epic, conclusion to a beloved sequence of films. For the most part, I find it really effective.

Return of the King gets a lot of flack, though, for its multiple endings. It seems Peter Jackson just couldn’t say goodbye to his beloved trilogy, or maybe the books just play out like this as well, but this movie could have ended five or six times. It’s a common criticism, but I’m not sure I agree with it. The movie is very long, but I actually found the pacing to be the most tolerable of the three, and each of the endings are a fun conclusion on an integral plot point. There are bigger plot gripes I had, some similar to those I had with the Two Towers: several more “crying because someone looks like they’re dead but actually aren’t” moments being a major culprit. The nonsense with the Eagles is also just poor storytelling whichever way you spin it.

But look at me, being all cynical about such a beloved trilogy. Again, I’d like to assure you that I am just as impressed by the scope and magnitude of the Lord of the Rings movies as most everyone else, and I really enjoyed them. I think these movies are near-perfect for those who have read the books and want to see every twitch of a character’s nose played out on screen. Jackson handles this source material as well as anyone could, but I sadly would have liked twenty minutes or so of cutting. There’s a lot of tedium to get to the meat of this story, and it dilutes the payoff for me.

That being said, this may be the best of the three movies in terms of its strongest moments. Aragorn feels like a true hero by the end of the film, and his coronation is a fantastic scene and a rightful sendoff for that character. The Sam and Frodo stuff is still pulling from a familiar well at the beginning (whether or not to trust Gollum), but it really takes off towards the end, making for a juicy conclusion to a fantasy epic of this scale. The onscreen friendship between the two is also downright powerful, and I always found myself hoping the next scene would cut back to them.

Though I think there’s some imbalance in quality between scenes, I think one of the best things about these movies is the wholeness that comes through laying it all out as Jackson does. As I’ve discussed previously, every character’s strength makes up for another’s weakness. The Fellowship may have disbanded literally, but the spirit of cooperation is still present, and every piece of this machine feels absolutely necessary to the rewarding ending. Return of the King, and the two films before it, have changed filmmaking. It’s a trilogy of greatness that does not disappoint.

And with that, twelve hours later, I can finally check off The Lord of the Rings. 

Films Left to Watch: 875

About Travis

I'm a software engineer reviewing a bunch of movies.
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