The thing that strikes me most the day after is that Return of the King is a film that puts the “move” back in “movie.” Shadowfax racing up around the seven levels of Minas Tirith—beacons by the mile bursting into flame as the music builds—the riders of Rohan thundering out across the plain, and then darting between the legs of giant elephants—Return of the King is constantly on the move, not just slipping smoothly between storylines (much more so than Two Towers), but visually rushing headlong into the fray. This is a film determined to go hard or go home.
I had a few quibbles, though. Denethor is portrayed as an out-and-out dicksmack.. I would have preferred a little more ambiguity to him—a stern man losing hope, yes, but a man you could tell was beginning to struggle with the harshness he deals out to his son. Not one who smacks his food while his son goes out on a suicide mission. I’m just saying. I feel like John Noble did a great job with what he was given; the writing and the direction (could you zoom in a little closer on the food running down his chin? Thanks) are what hobbled the character. (Also, note to filmmakers: Flaming Steward drew laughs from my audience. I have a feeling that’s not what you intended.) I wanted to feel some sort of psychodrama going on between these two rather than a cut-and-dried Bad Daddy, and I know the filmmakers were capable of it, because they had a lovely, subtle subplot about Theoden reaching out for his own legacy as a king, even as he tried to make amends with Eowyn for the grim life she’d led as his caretaker. More like that, please. Of course, if we hadn’t had Blatant Jerk Denethor, we couldn’t have had Gandalf laying the smack down upon him, yea verily, hosannah, and that was pretty awesome.
The humor was better integrated into this film than the second—a lot of the quips in the second were just over the top or out of place. (“Squirrel droppings”?) That said, I could have lived a thousand years without hearing Gimli refer to Aragorn as “Ari.” To his face, man. Oh, and I feel that Eowyn should be completely absolved from any guilt in her Aragorn infatuation, because he’d been giving her the eye ever since Two Towers. (In love with a shadow and a thought my ass.) And there were several other little odd, take-you-out-of-the-moment bits like that. Like, when Frodo falls down (I know, which time?) like a marionette with one leg kicked out to the side, all you can think is, “Jesus, you ought to have had some practice at this by now, Pinocchio. Gah.” And while the coronation was one of my most favorite scenes in the movie, do elves not RSVP? I mean, Aragorn and Arwen finally being reunited was very, very touching, but—how in hell did he not know she was there before that? And we won't even discuss that "her lifeforce is tied to the Ring" bullshit. What? I heard nothing. You?
Not to mention that the film sets entirely new standards for HoYay. When Aragorn and Legolas (very pretty in blue, I might add) come face to face at the coronation? God, just do it already. And the Sam-Frodo almost-kiss at the Grey Havens. Hell, Sam and Frodo at any point in this movie ever. And the Incredibly Gay Pajama Party of Slo-Mo near the end—I have no idea what’s up with that. I like my HoYay as subtext, people!
There comes a point, though, where picking at this movie feels like teasing your best friend. In fact, the only thing that really truly galled me was the number of things I knew had been filmed but still didn’t make it into the movie. Numerous bits about the palantir. The Luff of Eowyn and Faramir. Merry pledging his sword to Theoden. Saruman, for chrissakes. I wouldn’t have cared that scenes were dropped or changed from the book—I cared because I cared about the movie characters, and it killed me to know things really were happening that I didn’t get to see. And that’s probably not just the greatest compliment that we can give to these three movies, but the defining commentary on them—we sit there in the theater for two, three, four hours, and we walk out and complain that we wanted even more.