Roush Review: ‘The Rings of Power’ Restores Wonder to ‘Lord of the Rings’ Epic Fantasy

LOTR: The Rings of Power
Prime Video

The money’s on the screen — and it’s a good thing, given the roughly $465 million that Amazon has reportedly invested in bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythic Middle-earth back to life for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Prime Video‘s much-anticipated and sumptuous prequel to the events immortalized in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

At its frequent best in the opening hours — only two were made available for review, under tight security — The Rings of Power is a reminder of what drew many of us to epic fantasy (and Tolkien) in the first place: wonder. Whether scaling terrifying icy heights in the Northernmost Wastes, weathering a savage storm on the Sundering Sea, or merely gaping at the massive underground dwarf kingdom of Khazad-dum with its multiple cascading waterfalls, this new series set in an ancient realm displays one dazzling and painterly landscape after another.

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'LOTR: The Rings of Power' Team on Building Their Massive Middle-earth

'Another group might have done the Númenor show, or the elven show, but ... it wouldn’t be Middle-earth without all of those ingredients in the soup.'

Pretty pictures are nice, but Power doesn’t skimp on action, with thrilling battles against orcs and other monsters—a snow troll! a sea serpent!—to get the pulse racing amid all of the elaborate world-building. As it veers far from the claustrophobic palace intrigues of HBO’s hit Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon, this expansive quest story is the antithesis of a gloomy dark fantasy, the looming threat of evil sorcerer Sauron aside.

While it lays on the heavenly choirs a bit too thick, the euphoria is mostly earned as we traverse a sprawling map (Thrones credits-style) to visit an elven paradise, a rural village of pre-hobbit ancestors known as harfoots and the grittier Southlands where humans dwell. It’s a large cast of characters, to be sure (some yet to be introduced in the opening weekend’s first two hours), and one of the series’ more promising aspects is its diverse array of female heroes, especially the relentless elven warrior Galadriel (ethereal Morfydd Clark).

Avenging her brother’s death as she pursues the elusive Sauron to the ends of Middle-earth, she reminds her more peace-minded elf friend Elrond (Robert Aramayo), “Evil does not sleep. It waits.”

LOTR: Rings of Power

Prime Video

While we wait, there are others making strong first impressions: the delightful Markella Kavenagh as the restless young harfoot Nori, whose yearning for adventure will be realized all too soon, Sophia Nomvete as the lovably robust dwarf princess Disa—things really pick up when Elrond brings the dwarves into the picture—and Nazanin Boniadi as Bronwyn, a human healer and fierce protective mom whose relationship with smoldering elf soldier Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) adds some welcome sex appeal.

Being sworn to secrecy about anything that actually happens in these deluxe first episodes, let’s just say that their journeys have only begun. I can’t wait to see more.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Series Premiere (two episodes), Thursday, September 1, Prime Video