The Rings of Power Review: Stunning visuals, but not much else
A visual spectacle that fails to rise above ordinary because of its underwhelming writing
The first season of The Rings of Power—the prequel set thousands of years before the events of The Lord of The Rings—has ended, and it’s really a whirlwind of information. If you are perhaps a serious admirer of Tolkien or Peter Jackson, there’s a lot to unpack from what creators JD Payne and Patrick McKay have brought in. This excessive detailing is unfortunately the greatest curse of this series, with almost every character getting a subplot—without them adding up to something more interesting. What we get is a hyperlink tale involving five parallel tracks that serve more as distractions from each other than as parts of a cohesive whole. Take, for instance, the storyline of Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova), Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) and Theo, which reaches a high point when Theo begins to thirst for the power of the mysterious hilt, but this moment gets interrupted by a saccharine exchange between the Harfoots. These individual storylines also take forever to converge, and for a couple of episodes, you are even left in the dark about timelines.
Creators: JD Payne, Patrick McKay
Cast: Morfydd Clark, Markella Kavenagh, Roberty Aramayo, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Nazanin Boniadi, Charlie Vickers
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
The fairly inconsequential portions take up way too much screen time, while the crucial developments are explained away with rushed voiceovers. It must have been every Tolkien fan’s dream to see the Adar-Sauron clash, but we only get a fleeting reference to it. Even the finale doesn’t exactly delve into the equation between Celebrimbor and Halbrand. The big twists come in the form of some crucial characters passing away unexpectedly. And yet, these deaths don’t really hit hard, and part of the reason is our awareness that some of them are still around in the events of The Lord of The Rings. Some other attempts at creating shock feels a bit obvious—like the noble character who turns evil a couple of episodes later.
The big talking point from when the show was in development was the scale of the production. This is touted to be among the most expensive series made—and it shows. The Rings of Power is gorgeous to behold. It’s one of the reasons the writing-related flaws don’t stop you from watching. Memorable visuals include Galadriel's journey to her home, the chaos that unleashes post a volcanic eruption, and the faceoff between the elf in shining armour and Balrog. Some of us journalists were able to catch a few episodes as part of a select screening, which leaves me wondering how much more beautiful the visual experience might have been, if not for the limitations of the small screen. Composer Bear McCreary, however, helps take our minds off it with a brilliant score that does its best to perk up the underwhelming story.
This is the first of five seasons, and it’s overall a fairly underwhelming experience that doesn’t quite deliver on all the promises. The story isn’t even about the rings if one were to look beyond that final fleeting sequence. You know there’s a writing problem when even easter eggs fail to create excitement. For instance, references to the friendship angle of Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, and that classic line, "If in doubt, always follow your nose!" fail to leave any strong impression.
This first season of The Rings of Power, which takes forever to make progress, made me wish for that dark crystal, Palantir, into which I could peer to see whether future seasons get better. The Lord of the Rings fans deserve a lot more.