Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is epic, sprawling and spectacular. To appreciate the greatest and final instalment, you must watch the first two. However, despite their length, this is not a long slog as both Fellowship and The Two Towers are excellent outings into Middle Earth.
Even so, these films are really a grand set up for Return of the King, probably (definitely) the greatest high fantasy movie to have graced the silver screen. This second sequel sees Frodo and friends on the final leg of their journey to cast the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom, while Gandalf and Aragorn distract Sauron’s forces of evil.
No genre does battles quite like fantasy; see Beowulf, Narnia or Hellboy II for some impressive swordplay. Return of the King reigns supreme over them all. The over 3 hour run time leaves plenty of space for masterfully executed large scale battle scenes - and gigantic war elephants. The set piece battles really are breath-taking and allow for Aragorn’s rousing ‘Men of the West’ speech. The fate of the forces of good rests on each swing of a sword and every loosing of an arrow, and Peter Jackson does an amazing job of putting the viewer right at the heart of the action. It may seem an odd comparison, but these action sequences are much like Omaha Beach in Saving Private Ryan, if the G.I.s had longbows rather than submachine guns.
All of the greatness of the first two movies is seen here, but with less exposition and filler. It’s action and emotion from start to finish, although there are about four different endings. Return of the King cannot be accused of finishing too abruptly. The final scenes manage to tie up Tolkein’s story smoothly, and with a happier ending than in the novel, to the film’s credit.
After devoting 9 hours of time, or 12 with the extended edition, it would not feel fair to be given anything less than an incredible final chapter, and with Return of the King, Peter Jackson truly delivers for the race of men.