The new Amazon series The Rings of Power and its first two episodes bring the world back to Middle-earth, and it’s almost like we never left.
“We had no word for death, we thought our joys would be unending. We thought our light would never dim.”
This line is how the first episode of the new Amazon Prime series Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power opens. The series comes from showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay, and brings J.R.R. Tolkien’s fabled Second Age to life, thousands of years before Peter Jackson’s trilogy.
The show also takes Lord of the Rings fans back to Middle-earth for the first time since the Hobbit trilogy in the early 2010s. But it is a journey worth taking?
Minor spoilers for The Rings of Power Episodes 1 and 2…
Middle Earth is an exciting place once more
Many Lord of the Rings fans were skeptical about the series, due to the subpar reception that The Hobbit trilogy received. But rest assured, this series is looking to be more akin to Peter Jackson’s work than anything else.
The series opens with backstory, which could be passed off as exposition but feels like an epic history in the world of Middle-earth, fit with clips of claustrophobic battles, and stunning and haunting visuals. Since this story may be brand new to a lot of fans – not as many of them have read the Silmarillion – the series takes its first episode to mainly indulge you in the history and atmosphere of this new world. And what a world it is.
As we jump about this world’s map, Middle-earth feels like a fully varied place again. It’s dangerous, it’s charming, it’s regal, it’s rural. When it comes to stories that hinge on their environments, it’s definitely this franchise, and this show seems to fully recognize that.
This is emphasized by clever use of both practical and CGI effects, building settings that feel beautifully grand but also real and intimate. We may never get the exact feeling that we did while watching the fellowship roam the hills of New Zealand, but we can appreciate that The Rings of Power is definitely trying.
The Rings of Power remembers that monsters are meant to be scary
One issue that The Hobbit trilogy had was that it seemingly lacked stakes in all of its battles, and its enemies felt somewhat lackluster, save for Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug.
But this show creates a perfectly tense atmosphere, following the rise to power that big bad Sauron makes, which is the history that the story is seemingly planning to take. This is shown through a twist involving an evil item in the first episode, much ominous groundwork being laid out, and an epically scary score – though this music can sometimes overstay its welcome.
The small number of fights we get, barring one in Episode 2 between two humans and an orc, aren’t anything super-special yet, as the show is simply laying the groundwork for now. But they are done well. The Rings of Power tries to remind us that Orcs are meant to be scary, and we can actually believe it.
All of the monsters we face bring a real sense of fear. Although there is a monster called the worm, which… you couldn’t think of a better name for such a dangerous creature?
The Rings of Power works as an ensemble piece
Rather than focusing on one main character or journey, this series feels like a chess game, with multiple different pieces adding to the overall plot. One cup we must raise to the show is that there are a lot of female-centric sub-plots, which is refreshing after the boy’s club of the last two trilogies.
The Ring of Power brings back all of Middle Earth’s inhabitants; humans, elves, hobbits, and dwarves, generally with one or two characters to represent the group as a whole. Episode 2 definitely has the first one beaten in this regard, as it takes more time to focus on the relationships between characters.
You have Galadriel the warrior elf (Morfydd Clark), who is probably the most compelling character as of now, since she is desperate for revenge against Sauron, who killed her brother. The hobbits (helmed by Markella Kavenagh) are just as charming and quirky as ever, since their plot is akin to the “hiding the pet” trope, which we won’t spoil by explaining any further. The dwarves are of course bombastic and hilarious, and a scene where an elf has dinner with a dwarven prince’s family is particularly heart-warming to watch.
There is also a romantic relationship between a human and an elf (Nazanin Boniadi and Ismael Cruz Córdova respectively), though unfortunately the pair lacks any form of chemistry. Their pairing is given some interest at least from the tension between humans and elves, a tension which carries into the original trilogy. This really does feel like a world that predates the Lord of the Rings, even if the writing sometimes overly spells out the specific history of political views in order to emphasize this.
It is sadly the humans who feel the weakest out of everyone in this series. None of their characters jump out yet, the atmosphere generally feels mean-spirited, and the acting and dialect can be stilted. The performances of the show in general haven’t shown anything ground-breaking yet, but obviously there’s still time.
Is The Rings of Power as good as the original?
Overall, it’s safe to say that nothing will ever reach the lightning in a bottle that was the original trilogy. And being a prequel, the story is tied to a track that arguably leaves little to the imagination, so the first two episodes’ tension of whether Sauron is back may feel a bit redundant.
But this story knows what the important elements are for a god Tolkien adaptation. Whimsy and danger intertwine superbly, and the series is setting up an epic tale worth the watch, while also creating intriguing sub-plots for each of the characters.
This kind of story is not easy to accomplish, and it becomes more apparent with each watch that this series is building to something, dare we say it… Power-ful.
The Rings of Power premieres on Amazon Prime on September 2.