Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins
Sean Astin as Sam Gamgee
Ian McKellen as Gandalf the White
Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn
Andy Serkis as Gollum
Orlando Bloom as Legolas
John Rhys-Davies as Gimli
John Noble as Denethor
Billy Boyd as Pippin Took
Dominic Monaghan as Merry Brandybuck
Bernard Hill as Theoden
Miranda Otto as Eowyn
Karl Urban as Eomer
Bruce Hopkins as Gamling
David Wenham as Faramir
Liv Tyler as Arwen
Hugo Weaving as Elrond
Cate Blanchett as Galadriel
Lawrence Makoare as the Lord of Angmar and Gothmogh*
All stories, no matter how long, have a beginning and end. When you have a big story, it is all the more important to get that ending right. And The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King does just that! It concludes things, ties things up, and gives its characters closure with a bang!
Gollum, having made a decision to turn against his hobbit companions, manages to turn Frodo against Sam. Meanwhile, Gandalf takes Pippin to Gondor when it becomes clear that Sauron is planning to send his forces to attack this nation. The leader of Gondor is Denethor, father of Boromir and Faramir. Unfortunately, Denethor is a corrupt, self-interested politician who, rather than focusing on the coming battle, is preoccupied with Aragorn’s ascension to the throne, which would end his rule of Gondor. Denethor is also upset that Faramir sent Frodo back on his journey to destroy the Ring instead of taking it to one of Denethor’s dungeons for safekeeping, and no doubt, to become a political trump card.
Like The Shire in Fellowship and Rohan in Two Towers, Peter Jackson seems to have put his all into how Gondor was supposed to look, especially the capital, Minas Tirith. I’d always pictured it as a generic castle-town, but it is designed more as a giant fortress containing many levels to which to fall back in the event of a siege, clearly the best man could construct against the power of Sauron.
The “hope springs eternal” message built up over the first two movies continues with Denethor coming to believe that Faramir (on top of Boromir) is dead. The shock of losing two sons and the inevitability of superior numbers of the army of orcs that has arrived and evil men still on their way to attack his fortress leave Denethor in a state of panic and insanity. He decides to burn himself and Faramir like the kings of ancient times. The irony is that Faramir is still alive, just in need of medical attention, while reinforcements from Rohan and the ghosts of disgraced soldiers, given a chance at redemption by Aragorn, are coming to help. So to say that Denethor lost hope too easily would be an understatement.
As for other characters, everybody gets closure. Almost everybody remembers how Eowyn and Merry are dismissed as viable soldiers because of their respective identities as elf maiden and hobbit. A disguise for Eowyn and a hiding place for Merry on the way to Minas Tirith, though, give them a chance to fight and prove themselves. I also think the army of the dead is handled well. Appearing as incorporeal beings through CGI, the audience is given absolutely no reason to like them, and Aragorn absolutely hates turning to them. But he has no choice. And the extremely childlike Pippin finally grows up a little by pledging fealty to Denethor because Boromir died trying to save Merry and Pippin. And, of course, the doomed coupling of Aragorn and Arwen occurs after all.
Then there is Frodo himself. The Ring became very “heavy,” its corrupting power growing stronger the closer he got to Mount Doom. So after all this, Frodo finds that going home isn’t the same. He tries writing a book but eventually decides to go to the Gray Havens with the elves.
There is one conclusion I do have an issue with, both here and in the book (although if I remember, it only appears in the Extended Edition). Near the end, Faramir and Eowyn hit it off. Needless to say, this relationship goes ridiculously fast. Frankly, it seems to have occurred only because Eowyn had lost Aragorn to another and Tolkien’s vision demanded that this end unhappily for no one.
Despite this, I have to consider The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King the greatest fantasy movie ever made. It is a worthy conclusion to a great trilogy and it’s a fantastic movie in its own right as well.
Overall: 9 out of 10
*What is it with these movies and an orc type leader not being mentioned by name but appearing in the credits? Still, Gothmogh actually is a character who was in the book as leader of the orc army. Here he appears as an orc himself, but this has to be a guess because Tolkien never clarified who or what he is.