Episode 1 -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 2/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 2.5/5
With 1 billion dollars pumped into this by Amazon Studios, Rings of Power is officially the most expensive TV project ever created. When news of this reached the masses, many approached this project with equal doses of hope, trepidation and wariness.
The marketing campaign alone for Rings of Power has easily been one of the most tonally conflicting and disastrous in memory. Millions of dislikes over YouTube videos, several different styled adverts, a terrible “superfan” event and more. As a disclaimer, we’ve waited until now to get our review up so we can judge the show based on its entirety… and my gosh does this have some serious problems.
I appreciate that’s quite a long introduction but it’s a necessary one to understand how much is riding on this series’ success. Those at Amazon have already called this the “make or break” for Prime Video, with those in charge needing to hit this one out the park in order to keep their service going. And based on these 8 episodes that make up the first season, this one feels much closer to break than make.
Set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’, The Rings of Power takes place in the Second Age, with a host of original characters not in the established lore and repurposed parts of Jackson’s epic trilogy of films, all whilst intermingling in a bunch of disconnected stories and condensing down a 3441 year timeline.
The main protagonist here is Galadriel, and after a brief introduction, we’re thrown head-first into this world. After defeating Morgoth, Sauron has taken over the legions of orcs but has gone into hiding. Galadriel is determined to track him down and sets off on a quest to destroy the Dark Lord. That quest brings her to Numenor, where she convinces Queen Miriel to join her in this fight against their common enemy.
The second storyline follows the Harfoots, a pre-Hobbit race that migrate from place to place and try to stay out of trouble. However, when a man literally falls from the sky in a meteorite, young plucky Nori decides to bring him in and keep him out of trouble.
Thirdly, we have Arondir, an elf who’s in love with Bronwyn, a healer and a single mother of a rebellious teenage son called Theo. She also becomes the de-facto leader of the peoples in the Southlands, rallying together to try and stave off a rabble of incoming orcs.
The fourth and final storyline follows a younger Elrond and a host of Elves, who have an alliance with Durin and other dwarves, the latter of which having found something deep within the mines that could change their fortunes forever.
With many episodes clocking in at over an hour, the snail’s pace in this show is painful at times, to say the least. Pretty visuals and establishing shots can only go so far, but the actual story beats, narrative and logic are almost completely devoid from this show.
As a quick disclaimer, I am a fan of Lord of the Rings but it’s been a long time since I read the books and I only have a passing knowledge of the Silmarillion and the appendices. I appreciate that lore changes do happen but the way Rings of Power handles that – and Tolkien’s legacy – is akin to giving a baby a shotgun.
In one letter, Tolkien writes that he “cordially dislikes allegory in all its manifestations”, so when we hear a xenophobic worker in Numenor worried that elves are “taking all their jobs”, it obviously reflects the current situation going on in various parts of the world – and contradicts the writers claiming they’re honouring Tolkien.
But beyond that, the actual story here just isn’t very good. The sheer lack of logic and narrative structure belies belief. I said before about the pacing but even simple things like characters moving from point A to B are completely disregarded.
A fantasy world may have fantastical creatures and beings but it still has to adhere to the established rules it sets for itself early on. As a similar TV example, in season 3 and 4 of Game of Thrones, half the season is spent with The Hound and Arya, traveling over rolling hills and expanses. We get a feel for the sheer size of the world and the majesty of Westeros. In season 7 however, characters teleport around in seconds. Rings of Power takes this same illogical sense of time and dials it up to 11.
In one episode, the Harfoots head off on a migration but even the writers aren’t sure how long this lasts for, given their own commentary on that episode. Another time, we’re told that it’ll take “2 days” for 3 ships to reach land… and then 6 hours later there are thousands of men and women riding horses across the expanse toward a battlefield.
These sort of lackadaisical slips are not just frustrsging to watch, they completely take you out of the world and destroy any sense of realism and immersion you may have. And that in itself is staggering for a billion dollar project.
The character development is almost non-existent through large swathes of this season, and it’s presented in a really questionable way. The show has a bizarre tendency to lean on mystery box gimmicks for things that aren’t even mysteries. Will Isildur, the man destined to cut the ring from Sauron’s hand die? We’ll have to wait to find out!
But then even through all of this, the show has a really awful way of handling its dialogue. Characters either repeat information constantly or float into grandiose but nonsensical bits of dialogue that are almost laughable for how they’re delivered. Early on, Arondir is warned not to go down a hole as he doesn’t know what’s down there, so in reply he says “that is why I must go.” I could be here all day rattling off instances of dialogue like this but suffice to say it does nothing to help this series.
Speaking of characters though, Galadriel in particular has to be one of the most unlikable protagonists in a project this year, if not in the past decade. She’s arrogant, rude, abrupt and unbelievably self-entitled, not to mention smug in most encounters. She walks around with a big scowl on her face and embodies all the characteristics you’d expect from a perfect “Mary Sue” character. The others here range from blandly forgettable to exhibiting sparks of promise (mostly Disa, Elrond and Durin) but largely, everything here is a big glossy void of…nothing.
There’s absolutely nothing here that exhibits depth, majesty or richness lore. Instead, what we get is an empty husk; a show playing puppeteer with Tolkien’s world but devoid of heart, reason and logic, with narrative faults rippling right the way through its production. With the show creators promising big changes to come in season 2, it seems even they’re aware of the issues inherent with this.
Whether people will actually return to this one in a hurry is left up for debate but based on this showing, Rings of Power is not just one of the most disappointing shows of the year, it’s shockingly also one of the worst written and produced. Glossy visuals will only get you so far and Rings of Power has done absolutely nothing to convince that its writing will improve the next time out. What a disappointment.
Verdict - 3.5/10