What the critics are saying

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It is the battle of epic fantasy. Almost two weeks after the HBO release Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon comes the equally expected The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Powera prequel from Amazon Prime Video that takes place thousands of years before the events of Peter Jackson’s previous films.

It’s an ambitious undertaking from Amazon, with the studio lining up at least $1 billion over five seasons of the JRR Tolkien series (and $465 million for the first eight episodes alone). Without any involvement from Jackson, Rings of Power takes a different approach to Tolkien’s Middle-earth, tackling the lore of the Second Age and diving deeper into the history of the elves.

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The review embargo was lifted on Wednesday morning and early responses are mostly positive. While most are hailing the project for its promising plot and impressive cinematography, some reviews are mixed as skepticism of such a high price for the beloved franchise remains.

Read on for key takeaways from some of the most important early reviews.

The Hollywood ReporterDaniel Fienberg calls the show “a promising start.” He writes, “In the second episode, the story really starts to pick up, and there are characters and scenes that I found utterly charming in the way that a show like this requires for long-term survival, even if some of the effects and epic scale diminish a bit. It’s technically impressive, ambitious enough, full of Easter eggs I’m sure I’m not experienced enough to get and, with my interest in different plots already varying greatly, it could fall off a precarious cliff at any moment.”

BBCStephen Kelly writes, “What does [Rings of Power] work so far is what he did The Lord of the Rings work: the seriousness of his performances and the honesty of his writing. Showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay may have come out of nowhere to develop The Rings of Power, but they show a deft understanding of Tolkien’s soothing rhythms, grandeur and musicality. It’s a joy to hear the characters talk.”

TV lineDave Nemetz shares a similar positive sentiment and writes, “Rings of Power it’s not just good, it’s great: a wonderfully immersive and grandly ambitious spectacle packed with stunning visuals and compelling plot threads. More importantly, it captures the same sense of awe we felt watching it Lord of the Rings movies — the kind we don’t often experience on the small screen.”

IGNAlex Stedman also states, “It’s not only one of the most wonderful TV shows I’ve ever seen, but it goes toe-to-toe with most blockbusters on the big screen. What’s amazing about the cinematography is not only how meticulously it captures the diverse geography of Middle-earth, from snow-capped mountaintops to bustling Khazad-dûm, but also how it captures so closely the actors’ faces during important conversations.”

IndiewireShow’s Ben Travers gives it a B rating and writes “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power flutters to life in bursts, offering enough reason to believe that, given time to play out its own story and optimize its own powers, the Prime Video creation could leave its own glittering mark on JRR Tolkien’s sprawling universe. Genuine chemistry sparks humor and heartbreak. Large formations host undeniably epic battles. And yes, the magnificence on display is almost too much – all those high-up shots of fantasy cities and glittering landscapes routine is enough to feel routine. However, the impressive show’s main obstacle is the same one faced by many of the streaming era’s ambitious sequels, prequels, and spin-offs: overfamiliarity absent real danger. Investing a load of cash is not the same as investing beliefs, preferences and a sense of humanity. It’s very simple to please the masses with a nostalgic connect the dots game. it is much more difficult to forge one’s own ring worthy of admiration.’

Entertainment WeeklyDarren Franich takes a more negative view, calling the show “kind of a disaster.” He writes, “There are ways to do a prequel, and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power it makes them all wrong. It takes six or seven things that everyone remembers from the famous movie trilogy, adds a water tank, doesn’t entertain anyone, teases mysteries that aren’t mysteries, and sends the best character on a pointless detour. The latest is the elf Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) who spends the premiere telling people to worry about Sauron. In response, the people tell her not to worry about Sauron. That’s an hour down, seven to go this season. Does that sound like another billion dollars?”

The guardianRebecca Nicholson compares Rings of Power in the Game of Thrones prequel, claiming that the Amazon show “makes it so amazing House of the Dragon you look like an amateur.” Nicholson writes, “It takes until the second episode, and the arrival of the dwarves, for the exciting feeling to blossom – that sense that this is a fully realized world worth jumping into wholeheartedly. The dwarves anchor it and temper some of the show’s more pompous instincts. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that the initial romance soon crumbles. The elves’ insistence that “our days of war are over” is more pipe dream than cold political analysis. There are hints from the start that the decay is in the air, and it doesn’t take long for those hints to become sirens, blasting out the warnings at high volume. When it gets scary, it’s really scary. By the end of episode two, it’s tense and far scarier than I expected ».

VarietyCaroline Framke writes, “For now, it’s safe to say that Amazon throwing the weight of its coffers into this property has resulted in a perfectly winning adaptation that unfolds flimsy adventures with a clear respect and affection for the important mythos behind them. As the series moves forward, weaving together storylines and leaving literal page-to-screen translation behind, it will be encouraging to see how deftly The Rings of Power can remain rooted in its venerable source material while inevitably bending it into something new.”

The Los Angeles TimesRobert Lloyd claims that despite the fact that many thought Rings of Power it would be a disaster, “it isn’t”. Lloyd writes, “While many enjoy digging into the details of Tolkien’s cosmological, historical, and anthropological appendages, what matters is whether the series tells a good story—or stories, since there are several, whose interruption tends to take away little power from the narrative. And my verdict at this point is… here and there. Now again. Some stories work better than others.”

VultureKathryn VanArendonk writes, “The whole kit and caboodle is just too big to fail. The story is expansive enough to fill the series’ massive map, and where its fantastical settings promise impressive set pieces, such as a battle with an ice troll or ships sailing through the Immortal Lands, The Rings of Power lives up to those promises. Its emotional core, though simplistic, is equally large and open-hearted. It’s an honest show, with no room for cynicism. It’s all about Friendship or Honor or Greed or Power, and it would be so easy for it all to read as completely silly if it weren’t completely committed to that honesty at every beat.”

Vanity fairEsther Zuckerman says the prequel succeeds “[capturing] the spirit’ of Tolkien’s source material and Jackson’s earlier films. Zuckerman also praises Clark’s portrayal of Galadriel, writing, “Clark’s performance is the benchmark of the series: She is both omniscient narrator and protagonist. The character is portrayed by Cate Blanchett in Jackson’s films as an ethereal force of kindness that can turn terrifying in a single moment. Clark, meanwhile, manages to ground her Galadriel in spite and ride without losing that elven magical touch. Even when he convulses with anger, he seems to hover above the earth.’

Its first two episodes The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Premiering on Prime Video on September 2. New episodes will follow every week.

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