On the heels of a surprisingly compelling Game of Thrones prequel series, it’s a shame to have to say that the first episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is rough going. Much like the Star Wars prequels, it may be best suited to fans so dedicated that they can stand characters talking at length about politics in the fictional universe. Stephen Colbert and Jeff Bezos may enjoy those parts, but will you? It may depend upon your tolerance for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elves — generally the blandest fantasy race of all when portrayed onscreen. And your passion for listening to them aloofly discussing the various reasons not to panic that they never found the body of that bad guy they’re totally sure is dead by now. No need to worry. rings of power review.
The series begins with what may as well be Tolkien’s Garden of Eden creation story, then skips ahead to Elves leaving their paradise of a homeland and going across the sea to Middle-earth. (That Middle-earth is a continent rather than a world may be surprising to many.) There’s a big war with Orcs and a villain named Morgoth, whom we never see. We do, however, get a look at the familiar armored silhouette of his sorcerer, Sauron. Yes, that one. If you were hoping there would be a Sauron origin story here, that’s a big nope, unless we see flashbacks later. He enters the narrative fully formed.
We also meet humans and Harfoots, who are sort of like Gypsy Hobbits, expert in camouflage, and all speaking in either Irish or English farmer accents. Things pick up in episode 2 when we get to the Dwarves, who all appear as angry Scotsmen. Episode 2 fortunately picks up the pace after the deathly boring, overly serious exposition dump of its predecessor, and it adds monsters in key scenes. There’s even a character who could become Gandalf later, or just be a big swerve. He’s a bit like Dougie in season 3 of Twin Peaks — best to enjoy the barely verbal version, and maybe cheer if he suddenly busts out “You shall not pass!” in episode 10 or whatever.
For now, Elrond (Robert Aramayo) and Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) take center stage, with both on different adventures. They look younger and prettier than the actors who previously played them, and are less interesting to boot. But they’re arguably less uptight: Elrond’s a chill dude who wants to be friends, and Galadriel’s a warrior woman more in the vein of Eowyn.
Give or take the occasional Leonard Nimoy song, most Tolkien fans take their fantasy super-seriously, and that can turn into quite the problem for prequels. These actors essentially recite scripture to the faithful, but it’s not a lot of fun for more casual viewers. The angry Scottish Dwarves help to break things up, but this franchise badly needs a Han Solo type who’s just a little cynical about all the magic, immortality, and heroics. Or some good villains. If Sauron’s as distant a presence as in the movies, and it looks that way so far, then the show really needs a decent Gollum or Wormtongue substitute.
It may seem unfair to compare very different fantasy shows, since Tolkien and George R.R. Martin have little in common besides dragons and two middle initials beginning with R. But only two episodes in, House of the Dragon lets us know what’s at stake, and who the major players are. The Rings of Power relies a bit too much on mystery elements for now, at least for the non-hardcore who don’t know where all the lore goes. Galadriel wants to find Sauron’s body, but aside from that, what does everyone else want? What’s stopping them?
As long as the focus stays on Elrond and Dwarf Prince Durin (Owain Arthur) as mismatched frenemies, the show stays fun. When it wanders from that, so might your attention span. If this show seriously intends to go five seasons, it has got to pick things up and do better. Even the trailer for the upcoming season offers few hints of a coalescing narrative.
But at least it does have a Balrog.
Grades: 1.5/5 for Episode 1, 2/5 for Episode 2.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power‘s first two episodes drop Sept 2 on Prime Video.
Recommended Reading: J.R.R. Tolkien 4-Book Boxed Set: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
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