REVIEW: ‘Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ Episode 1 & 2

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Rings of Power - But Why Tho

A large part of who I am is really because of J.R.R Tolkien’s world. It’s the one fandom that means so much to me that, well, I don’t talk to anyone about it. And yet, here I am reviewing the series, episode by episode because I want to be in Middle Earth again. Led by showrunners and executive producers J.D. Payne & Patrick McKay, Prime Video‘s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power takes place during relative peace. The series stars Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Robert Aramayo, Peter Mullan, Owain Arthur, Maxim Baldry, Nazanin Boniadi, and more.

Set in Middle Earth’s Second Age, The Rings of Power follows a large ensemble cast as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil in Middle earth. And if you’re unfamiliar with Middle Earth’s history, this puts it thousands of years before the events of Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which takes viewers back to the era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and Sauron threatened to cover all the world in darkness. Exploring the vast world of Middle Earth, we see the Misty Mountains, Lindon, Númenor, and places untraveled too.

For The Rings of Power Episodes 1 & 2, audiences get a lesson in history, war, and see the stage set for the story about to unfold. On their own, each episode feels slightly empty but when watched back to back with no break in between they build on each other in a way that is fit for Middle Earth, narratively at least. As replication of Tolkien’s narrative style, The Rings of  Power does succeed. While that is a good thing for Tolkien fans, it also has a second edge. Breaking down weighty storylines of history and dialogue into small hour segments instead of long epics may end up being to the series’ detriment. Ultimately, I can see this better watched two at a time at least, or all at once at most.

Additionally, the creature work (specifically when practical) and the costuming is near perfection. The color palettes and details are superb and each area of Middle Earth feels unique from the others. Like most series coming out right now it’s the CGI that slightly disrupts the extravagance and scale of the series, but when the effects are practical, damn do they sing.

While some elements of The Rings of Power premiere episodes felt epic in scale thanks to the beautiful and lush scenery, there were no moments where I found myself captured with fervor. This is due in large part to some awkward cutting in Galadrial’s fight sequence that happens early in Episode 1, with jump cuts making her look less capable than cool. Additionally, the otherworldly quality of beauty that the elves have regardless of gender is sapped from The Rings of Power because the men all have short hair. This sharp differentiation of gender between the elves seems to run counter to the narrative the story is pushing for Galadiral, a change that deeply affects what could have used visuals to add to the narrative instead of just having characters talk about the gendered nature of roles within the Elven kingdom.

But the two things that stand out beautifully is the attention to set detail of the Hobbits, their homes, where they fit into the world, and the Dwarven halls. For the former, this is the most lived-in part of the series so far. To capture the magic of fantasy, CGI needs to feel minimal instead of overpowering, one of the reasons Peter Jackson’s trilogy is perfection and the follow-up Hobbit films are not. The Hobbits’ homes feel real, built, and like actual pieces of a world. With what seems to be the most use of practical effects in the series, this is the piece of the world I want more of. I want more of these moments surrounded by nature, without heavy CGI, allowing the world to come alive beautifully without too much interference. For the Dwarves, the epic scale of the Dwarven halls in their glory is enough to make you gasp. Gorgeous and warm instead of cold or hollow, the golden hues bring to life one of my favorite of Tolkien’s people.

The Rings of Power - But Why Tho (1)

Of the cast, the standouts begin with Galadriel, played by the captivating Morfydd Clark. Etherial and dynamic, Clark’s portrayal of Galadrian in her sorrow, in her rage, and in her calm all sing, and are beyond worthy of fitting into the role Cate Blanchett molded in the 2000s. Next to her, however, is the original character Arondir, a Silvan elf soldier, played by Ismael Cruz Córdova. Acting well beyond just the dialogue he’s given, his presence is captivating and his stoicism is somehow matched by a brewing emotion. And while there aren’t necessarily bad characters in the series, Elrond, played by Robert Aramayo falls flat; more wooden than powerful.

The largest issue that The Rings of Power will have is that it’s running immediately against HBO’s House of the Dragona world that was very much built in an almost retaliatory act of the way high fantasy became a mimic of Tolkien’s worlds. Now, this return to Middle Earth finds itself in a television space shaped by the adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s workfor better or worse. On the surface, both series have female leads pushing against what it’s expected that they can do. Both have astronomically large budgets. To be honest, it breaks my heart that Rings of Power doesn’t stand above House of the Dragon (Which I am also reviewing). Instead, it’s on the same level.

Don’t get me wrong, The Rings of Power Episodes 1 & 2  are good, but they don’t reach the heights that the budget or the property have stoked in the past months of marketing. As someone who uses “Mithrandir” as her screen name, I want more. The good news is, as a foundational episode, so long as the series grows on itself and takes advantage of the runtime, scope, and scale of Middle Earth, it can get there.

A mixed bag. Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power may not be epic but it is good, even it isn’t hitting the high bar set for the world. Already set up as a multi-seasonal series, I’m going to reserve my full judgment until this journey reaches the end of Season 1.

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power will premiere two episodes exclusively on Prime Video September 2, 2022 at 6pm PT with new episodes available weekly.


Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 1 & 2
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

A mixed bag. Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power may not be epic but it is good, even it isn’t hitting the high bar set for the world. Already set up as a multi-seasonal series, I’m going to reserve my full judgment until this journey reaches the end of Season 1.

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