Few streaming series have carried as much weight into their premiere as The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Amazon Studios’ ambitious, ludicrously expensive series set in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth saga. Not only is the Prime Video series telling a new story set in one of the fantasy genre’s most seminal — and as such, highly scrutinized — worlds, but its success (or failure) could very well determine the fate of an entire streaming service.
That’s a lot to put on any show, so it’s probably a good thing that the first two episodes of The Rings of Power deliver on all of the project’s potential (and then some).
Directed by J.A. Bayona (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, The Orphanage) from scripts penned by John D. Payne and Patrick McKay, The Rings of Power is set thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The series chronicles the rise of Sauron and the creation of the magical rings that would end the relative peace Middle-earth had enjoyed, forcing men and elves to ally themselves and go to war to save their world.
While the series’ cast is largely composed of characters not present in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, one of the primary arcs in the show’s early episodes is led by young versions of two important figures in those sagas: The elves Galadriel and Elrond. Morfydd Clark (Saint Maud) portrays Galadriel, an elven commander obsessed with rooting out evil forces in Middle-earth, while Robert Aramayo (Behind Her Eyes) plays Elrond, a brilliant elven politician and scholar.
The pair are joined by Markella Kavenagh as Nori Brandyfoot, a member of the diminutive, nomadic, and secretive “Harfoot” race, who — like many of the Hobbits in later years — becomes a little figure caught up in a big adventure after an encounter with a mysterious stranger. Ismael Cruz Cordova takes on the role of Arondir, an elven soldier in love with a human woman, played by Homeland actress Nazanin Boniadi.
Each of the first two episodes of The Rings of Power does an impressive job of replicating the tone and scope of the live-action, Tolkien-inspired film franchises that preceded the series. On one hand, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given the involvement of visual effects studio Weta FX, composer Howard Shore, and many of the other, behind-the-scenes creative teams who worked on The Hobbit and/or The Lord of the Rings films. But the grandeur of The Rings of Power still feels special within the framework of a series and makes each episode feel like a cinematic feature best enjoyed on the biggest screen possible.
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In this and other ways, The Rings of Power feels more akin to The Lord of the Rings films than The Hobbit, too — particularly as its story unfolds across multiple, parallel narratives. The characters are separated by wide distances in the show’s introductory story arc, but much like the initially distant adventures of the characters in The Lord of the Rings, their stories manage to be individually entertaining even as the point of them intersecting grows more imminent.
Like the films, The Rings of Power doesn’t waste any time introducing a host of characters that seem certain to hold your interest as they mix and mingle around Middle-earth.
Along with replicating the scale and narrative architecture of The Lord of the Rings films, the Amazon series also delivers an experience that feels tonally familiar to those features, too.
Great fantasy sagas find the balance between dire (and often world-threatening) stakes and heroes whose journey never gets mired in the bleakness of the events unfolding around them. The Rings of Power channels that relationship wonderfully with heroes whose noble sense of purpose outshines the darkness of the forces aligning against them.
While it might seem unremarkable, that element of The Rings of Power feels fresh and unique amid the overwhelming bleakness that projects like Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon have brought to the medieval fantasy genre in recent years.
Whether The Rings of Power can accomplish all that’s expected — and hoped — of it for both Amazon Studios remains to be seen, but the series’ first two episodes suggest it has the potential to be every bit the worthy successor to the film saga fans are hoping for. Grand in its ambition, spectacle, scope, and maybe most importantly, execution, The Rings of Power is off to an impressive start.
Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premieres Friday, September 2, on Prime Video streaming service.