The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (PG-13)
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This is the third and final film in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and the only one of them that I'm sure I saw in a theater when it first came out (in 2003). And at the time, I'm sure it was my favorite one of the three movies. But I didn't watch any of them for a second time until 2014. (And I'm not sure, but this may be the first time I'm seeing the extended editions of all three movies; I wouldn't remember whether I'd seen any of the specific scenes before or not.) For this viewing, I watched the first disc of "Return of the King" on September 21 (my birthday), and the second disc on September 22 (Hobbit Day).
It begins with a flashback to hundreds of years ago, when Sméagol and a relative of his named Déagol found the One Ring, and fought over it. Sméagol killed Déagol for the ring, and thus began his slow transformation into the wretched creature now known as Gollum. In the present, he continues to lead Frodo and Sam into Mordor. Sam's distrust of Gollum continues to grow, while Gollum works to make Frodo distrust Sam. Eventually, Frodo tells Sam to leave.
Meanwhile, Gandalf and his companions join Merry and Pippin at Isengard, where Saruman is now imprisoned. Gandalf wants to interrogate him, but... that doesn't work out so well. But Pippin gets hold of Saruman's palantír, which allowed the wizard to communicate with Sauron. Gandalf takes it from him, but the object will lead Pippin into trouble later on. Anyway, Gandalf and Pippin go to Minas Tirith, the capital of Gondor, to warn Denethor of Sauron's impending attack on the city. Denethor is mourning the death of his son, Boromir, and he's also upset about having learned something we've known since the first movie, but which I've avoided mentioning until now: That Aragorn is a descendant of Isildur, and as such is heir to the throne of Gondor, which means Denethor could lose his position as steward (and of course, it explains the title of the movie). Anyway, Denethor isn't receptive to Gandalf's warning. But he does take Pippin on as a Guardian of the Citadel. Oh, also I mentioned flashbacks in the previous movie about Denethor and his two sons, Boromir and Faramir. What I didn't say was that Denethor greatly favored Boromir, and acted like a total jerk toward Faramir... who nevertheless loved his father, and wanted to prove his worth. Anyway, in this movie, Sauron's orc army captures Gondor's stronghold of Osgiliath, which Faramir had been defending. Later, Denethor orders his army to retake Osgiliath, and against his better judgment, Faramir agrees. This ends very badly.
Meanwhile, a call had been sent out for help from the men of Rohan, so Théoden leads his army to Minas Tirith. Also he had accepted Merry as a part of his army, though it doesn't seem he had any intention of taking the Hobbit with him. He also doesn't expect to return from the battle, and intends for Éowyn to rule Rohan when he's gone. But she secretly joins his forces when they ride to Gondor, and she takes Merry with her. Meanwhile, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli venture into a cursed place where Aragorn, as the true king of Gondor, manages to recruit some very unlikely (and very spooky) allies for the impending battle. Thus ends disc one.
In the second half of the movie, Gollum leads Frodo into the lair of a giant man-eating spider called Shelob, whom he hopes will kill Frodo so that he can finally take back his precious. That doesn't quite turn out the way he'd hoped, but I don't want to spoil exactly what happens. I'll just say that Frodo and Sam are eventually reunited, leaving Gollum behind, and they continue on their journey to Mount Doom.
Meanwhile, I failed to mention that the most epic battle in the history of epic battles had begun in the first half of the movie, with Gandalf leading the forces of Gondor against the orcs when they besieged Minas Tirith. That battle continues on the second disc. Thousands of orcs and men and one Hobbit, plus some trolls, and oliphaunts (ginormous badass elephant-like things), and Nazgûl flying on dragon-like creatures. And later the men of Rohan (and one woman and another Hobbit) join the battle, and then Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and a horde of ghosts show up. The battle is finally won, but the war is not over. There are still thousands of orcs in Mordor itself, whom Frodo and Sam will have to get past to reach their goal. Aragorn decides to lead his remaining forces to the gates of Mordor, to distract Sauron and thereby give Frodo a chance to complete his task. (Éowyn and Faramir remain at Minas Tirith, and it seems clear that they fall in love, though there isn't much explanation for that in the movie. I seem to recall the book doing a better job with that plot point, though I don't remember details.)
Frodo and Sam finally reach Mount Doom, but completing their mission still isn't as simple as it should be. (Incidentally, when Sam said, "Just let it go," I couldn't help thinking of Frozen.) But ultimately their mission does succeed, with a fitting end for both the One Ring and Gollum. Later, there is much celebrating when Aragorn is crowned king, and is reunited with Arwen. And... some more stuff happens that I don't want to spoil. (As always, I've left out tons of details of the plot throughout this review.) I must say, when I watched the first half of the movie, I started thinking that maybe this time I wouldn't love the third movie more than the first two, either because this time I loved the first two movies more than I did the first time I watched them, or because I loved this one slightly less than I had before. But before the movie's end, I turned out to be wrong; I still loved this one the most. It's kind of hard not to be filled with feels when you see heroes who have basically been through all kinds of hell finally enjoy the success, honor, and happiness they've so desperately earned. And... I guess that's all I can think to say. I hope I'm not forgetting anything important....