Rings of Power: Does one ring rule the critics?

(CREDIT: Ben Rothstein, Prime Video)

The Amazon original series, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, premiered Friday in America, but the first two episodes dropped in other time zones earlier in the week, and critics were allowed previous early access. 

Amazon Prime’s description reads:

Beginning in a time of relative peace, we follow an ensemble cast of characters as they confront the re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains to the majestic forests of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power stars Morfydd Clark, Benjamin Walker, Charles Edwards, Charlie Vickers, Markella Kavenagh, Nazanin Boniadi, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Tyroe Muhafidin, Maxim Baldry, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Owain Arthur, Trystan Gravelle, Sir Lenny Henry, Ema Horvath, Markella Kavenagh, Sophia Nomvete, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Leon Wadham, Daniel Weyman, and Sara Zwangobani.

Amazon, specifically Jeff Bezos himself, reportedly spent $250 million in 2017 to obtain the rights from Christopher Tolkien, son of author J. R. R. Tolkien, who wrote the Lord of the Rings books, and the editor of much of his father’s posthumously published work. Tolkien drew the original maps for his father’s The Lord of the Rings.

Bezos’s Amazon team outbid HBO and Netflix for the rights. “He is personally a huge fan of Tolkien and incredibly passionate about all of it and very well-versed,” Jennifer Salke, the head of Amazon Studios told Vanity Fair at the time.

Peter Jackson, Oscar-winning director of the Warner Bros.-owned Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies is not affiliated with the series. 

Now five years later, audiences will finally be able to view the 8-episode series, which is apparently costing $465 million to produce. It is estimated that the 5 season streaming service will cost Amazon at least $1 billion in total.

Here’s what the critics are saying about the most expensive series in history:

Daniel Fienberg from The Hollywood Reporter calls the show “a promising start.” He writes, “In the second episode, the story starts to actually move along and there are characters and scenes that I found utterly charming in the way a show like this requires for long-term survival, even if some of the effects and epic scale diminish a tiny bit. It’s technically impressive, reasonably ambitious, packed with Easter eggs that I’m certain I’m not versed enough to get and, with my interest in different plotlines already varying wildly, it could fall off a precarious cliff at any moment.”

Dave Nemetz from TV Line said, “Rings of Power is not just good, it’s great: a gorgeously immersive and grandly ambitious spectacle packed with stunning imagery and compelling plot threads. Most importantly, it captures the same sense of awe we felt while watching the Lord of the Rings movies — one we don’t often get to experience on the small screen.”

Rebecca Nicholson from The Guardian compares Rings of Power to the Game of Thrones prequel, claiming the Amazon show “so astounding it makes House of the Dragon look amateur.” Nicholson writes, “It takes until the second episode, and the arrival of the dwarves, for the immersive feeling to flourish – 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 is not much of a spoiler to say that the initial idyll is soon shattered. The elves’ insistence that “our days of war are over” is more of a dream than cold political analysis. There are hints from the start that decay is in the air and it does not take long for those hints to grow into sirens, bellowing out warnings at great volume. When it gets frightening, it is genuinely scary. Towards the end of episode two, it is breathlessly tense and far more gruesome than I anticipated.”

Caroline Framke from Variety writes, “For now, it’s safe to say that Amazon throwing the weight of its coffers at this property has resulted in a perfectly winning adaptation that unfolds swashbuckling adventures with clear reverence and affection for the considerable mythos behind it. As the series forges ahead, combining storylines and leaving literal translation from page to screen behind, it will be telling to see just how ably The Rings of Power can stay rooted in its venerable source material while, inevitably, bending it into something new.”

Robert Lloyd from The Los Angeles Times claims that despite the fact that many thought Rings of Power would be a disaster, “it isn’t.” Lloyd writes, “Although many enjoy digging into the minutiae of Tolkien’s cosmological, historical and anthropological appendices, what matters is whether the series tells a good story — or stories, since there are several, whose intercutting does tend to take a little power out of the narrative. And my verdict on that point is … here and there it does. Now and again. Some storylines work better than others.”

Kathryn VanArendonk from Vulture writes, “The whole kit and caboodle is simply too big to be a failure. The story is expansive enough to fill up the show’s huge map, and where its fantasy premises promise impressive set pieces, like a battle with an ice troll or ships sailing into the Undying Lands, The Rings of Power lives up to those promises. Its emotional core, though simplistic, is just as big and openhearted. It is a forthrightly sincere show, with no room for cynicism. Everything is about Friendship or Honor or Greed or Strength, and it’d be so easy for it all to read as completely goofy if it were not utterly committed to that sincerity in every single beat.”

Lauren Sarner from the New York Post raves, “for the most part, the show is a triumph. And although comparisons to the Game of Thrones spinoff House of the Dragon are inevitable, it feels entirely different and less cynical, making it a solid companion piece to the movies. Even in this current era where genre shows are a dime a dozen, The Rings of Power announces the arrival of a fantasy series that’s a cut above the rest. “

Joelle Monique from The Wrap said, “Ring of Power is dense with lore and characters. Multiple viewings may be required, but it won’t be wasted time. It’s rare to feel that one is stepping into another world; the seams of our reality are frequently present. Get lost in the beauty of this series. While it may feel heavy, there is an attempt to bring in comedy and heart with the dwarves, and the writers and directors (J.A. Bayona directs the first two installments) have tapped beautifully into fantasy-romance and horror to bring layers of texture to the script. Overall, Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power makes for an engaging and awe-inspiring watch.”

Ben Travers from Indiewire gives the show a B rating, and writes “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power flutters to life in bursts, offering reason enough to believe, with time to play out its own story and optimize its own strengths, the Prime Video creation could leave its own gleaming mark on J.R.R. Tolkien’s still-expanding universe. Genuine chemistry draws sparks of humor and heartache. Sizable set pieces house indisputably epic battles. And yes, the grandeur on display is almost too much — all those soaring shots of fantastical cities and glistening scenery routine enough to feel, well, routine. Still, the stately show’s main hurdle is the same faced by many of the streaming era’s ambitious sequels, prequels, and spin-offs: over-familiarity absent any real risk. Investing a boatload of cash isn’t the same as investing beliefs, predilections, and sense of humanity. It’s rather simple to satisfy the masses with a nostalgic game of connect the dots; it’s much harder to forge a ring of one’s own worth admiring.”


Not everyone felt the series deserves a positive review:

Darren Franich from Entertainment Weekly has a more negative take, calling the show “kind of a catastrophe.” He writes, “There are ways to do a prequel, and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power does them all wrong. It takes six or seven things everyone remembers from the famous movie trilogy, adds a water tank, makes nobody fun, teases mysteries that aren’t mysteries, and sends the best character on a pointless detour. The latter is uber-elf Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) who spends the premiere telling people to worry about Sauron. In response, people tell her not to worry about Sauron. That’s one hour down, seven to go this season. Sound like a billion dollars yet?”

Clint Worthington from RogerEbert.com said, “you can throw all the CGI money in the world at a series, and it won’t make it more quickly-paced or its characters more compelling. That’s The Ring of Power’s major failing in its early go, as its first episode functions as a somewhat dry, derivative prelude, filled with endless scenes of politicking and elves droning on against green screens or elegantly-furnished conference rooms. It’s hardly the most exciting beginning to the series, with a frustrating amount of place-setting and more two-line characters than you can shake a palantír at.”

Helen O’Hara from Empire Magazine said, “These new characters will take some getting used to, and time will tell if we can love them as we did Frodo, Aragorn and the rest — especially the sometimes-shaky Harfoots. The script is occasionally clunky, too: we hear that Orcs have spread “to every corner” of the world and literally a minute later are told they haven’t been seen in years. Blame the sheer scale of the timeline, perhaps. Galadriel has, after all, lived a few thousand years already, and there are at best hundreds of years of story still to cram in.”

The series is currently getting review-bombed to the extent that Amazon turned off the user ratings. IMDb, which Amazon also owns, has not suspended audience ratings for Rings of Power. Currently, the series stands at a 6.1 average score out of 10. section.

The first two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premiered exclusively on Amazon Prime Video officially on September 2, at 9pm/6pm Pacific. Weekly episodes available Fridays at 12am ET/9pm Pacific.

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