The Rings Of Power Series Premiere Review: A Gift For Tolkien Fans, A Slow Start For Everyone Else
Finally, it's here!
It’s been eight years since The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies hit theaters, marking the end (so far, at least) of Peter Jackson’s live-action adaptations of the works of the late J.R.R. Tolkien. Now, the long-awaited first two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power have finally arrived on Amazon Prime Video, and the verdict? The Rings of Power is a gorgeous production with the same kind of love taken in the building of the fantasy world as we saw in Jackson’s films. For Tolkien fans, returning to Middle-earth in this show should be a wonderful experience. We meet intriguing new interpretations of old friends, richly crafted characters original to the series, and Tolkien creations who–before now–had been left on the page. Those who have been craving more live-action Tolkien should be delighted, but everyone else? Their doors into The Rings of Power might not swing as wide.
First, let’s get to what’s great. The Middle-earth delivered by The Rings of Power is vast, beautiful, and shows us corners of the world new to live-action like the frozen wastes of Forodwaith, and the Elf stronghold at Lindon. The series is so far surprisingly sparing with its CGI creatures. There are a number of formidable beasts in the first couple of episodes rendered with digital magic, but they don’t take over the screen. There’s spectacle to be sure, but this is ultimately a story about the characters we meet and how the unfolding events change them.
Morfydd Clark delivers a surprisingly fierce and rebellious version of Galadriel, and Robert Aramayo is a young and less weathered version of Elrond than what Hugo Weaving played; still clearly not ready for the truth of Sauron’s power. Ismael Cruz Cordova and Nazanin Boniadi promise an engrossing–but more likely than not, doomed–romance as the Elf warden Arondir (Cordova) and the human healer Browyn (Boniandi). The hearts of Jackson fans will delightfully skip upon meeting the nomadic Harfoots–aka, the Hobbits of this era–like the young and adventurous Nori (Markella Kavenagh), her best friend Poppy (Megan Richards), and the elder Sadoc (Lenny Henry). And not since someone working for Peter Jackson had the good sense to call John Rhys-Davie have actors have been better cast as Tolkien Dwarves than Owain Arthur as Durin IV and Sophia Nomvete as Disa. Elrond’s journey to Khazad-dûm (aka Moria), his struggles to rebuild Durin’s trust, and his meeting with Disa makes for some of the most entertaining few scenes of the first couple of episodes.
But while many of the comparisons of The Rings of Power to “Game of Thrones light” are unfair, Amazon’s new series does lack the universal appeal of the latter show’s early seasons. Mind you, it has nothing to do with whether or not the Tolkien-uninitiated might be confused by the mythos. The prologue of 2001’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is denser and more complex than any exposition found in the first two episodes of The Rings of Power. The problem is that the series has yet to give those who aren’t as invested in the stories of Middle-earth a reason to care about the conflict that’s about to unfold.
“About to” being the key words here. After some backstory, The Rings of Power brings us to a time in which the evil of Sauron and his master Morgoth have seemed absent for so long, that most Elves think of them as being concerns of the past. It’s made clear through several violent confrontations that characters like Galadriel and Arondir are right to think there’s reason for concern, but after two episodes of an eight-episode season, the stakes are unclear and the build up is far too slow.
Hopefully, things will pick up in The Rings of Power when the third episode streams on Amazon Prime Video next week. This series is bursting with potential, but if it doesn’t pick up the pace, then it won’t be able to rely on anyone but those already in love with Tolkien’s work; and plenty of them have already written off the show either for treating Tolkien’s story as fiction rather than as sacred texts that can only be adapted word for word, or for “going woke” (apparently some Tolkien fans find it easier to believe in Balrogs than in Elves and Dwarves who aren’t white).