The good news is, this is a fabulous two hours of cinema. The bad news is, it's almost three hours long. This was always likely to be the trickiest installment, suffering from the inevitable problems of being a film without a beginning, no proper end, and several groups of characters to follow. Jackson would have been wise to hack out even more. Get rid of the talking trees, for a start, since the last thing we needed during the climactic, amazing battle for Helm's Deep was to cut away to scenes of procrastinating foliage. We could have done with less Frodo - still wearing that same expression - and Sam too, since at the end, they're plodding towards Mordor, pretty much as they were at the beginning. Admittedly, this would rob us of the delights of Gollum, a CGI character (though calling him CGI enhanced would be fairer to actor Andy Serkis) which surpasses any other yet seen.
The main focus is once more Aragorn (Mortensen), who starts off trying to rescue the hobbits captured at the end of part one, before diversion into rescuing the kingdom of Rohan from evil. This ultimately leads to Helm's Deep, and a sequence powerful enough to make you forget the flaws, such as the reduction of Saruman to an almost impotent figure. But the failings are there, none the less, and they make this a significantly less effective movie than the first. However, as with Fellowship, the prospect of having to wait another year fills me with dismay; Return of the King easily remains 2003's most-anticipated film.