Peter Jackson's second foray into the rich fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkien is undoubtedly his best film to date. As the action starts we see Gandalf the Grey swept to his apparent death by the flailing whip of the Balrog which he has battled while Aragorn, Frodo and the rest manage to make their escape. This film properly introduces Gollum, a goblin like creature who was once a hobbit but was slowly driven mad by the one ring to rule them all that Frodo and Sam have been entrusted to destroy in the fires of Mordor.
Jackson gets the pace of he movie (which is nearly 3 hours long) just right with plenty of plot development, tension building and some lovely action set pieces which leave you wishing the film went on even longer. There are 3 main strands to the narrative. Frodo, Sam and Gollum make their way over marshes and mountains on their quest to Mordor, all the while trying not to attract the attention of the sinister ring Wraiths who are searching for the ring.
Meanwhile Merry and Pippin, two other hobbits who have managed to get lost in the forest, meet some colourful characters courtesy of some top class special effects. It's often the case that when a movie has special effects this good the story or the acting are weak but that obviously does not apply here.
The main strand of the movie follows Aragorn, Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf as they travel across country encountering Orcs, wolves and evil wizards in the form of Grimer Wormtongue. The King of Rohan is bewitched and befuddled by a spell which is only lifted thanks to the re-appearance of Gandalf (now Gandalf the White) who is played brilliantly by professional thespian Ian McKellen.
Critics of the film have argued that the relationship between Sam and Frodo is a bit suspect but that's a puerile comment which says more about their own views than those of the author.
The reason why this movie is amongst the best ever made is largely down to the spectacularly amazing battle at Helm's Deep. All of the actors do a great job of hooking you in and you genuinely feel their fear when thousands of Orcs march towards the castle in the rain soaked darkness of middle Earth. From then on in it's a breathtaking action sequence with comic relief provided by Gimli and Legolas' competition to rack up the biggest number of kills. Legolas in particular has a couple of moments which will leave you gasping at his Elven abilities.
It's a shame that the third movie tried and failed to top this battle scene although all three of the films were filmed at the same time and manage to largely stay true to the original books. For anyone who has ever been intrigued by wizards, dragons and orcs this must surely be the ultimate fantasy adventure movie of all time.