Lord of the Rings:
The Two Towers
Every good story has three basic parts - a beginning, a middle and an end (if you lump the denouement in with the end). JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy has The Two Towers in that spot, sandwiched between The Fellowship of the Ring and The Return of the King. The Two Towers has some key features that make it a good middle - first, the number two in the title, and second, it moves the story along without concluding the saga while introducing new characters that will be important to the saga while changing some older ones.
As the middle part of a trilogy, it should be clear that there will be another part to tidy up some of the plot points. As a film version of a book that has been in print for decades it might seem spoilers couldn't exist, but this film series is the initiation for many into the lands of Middle Earth, and since no story is ever quite as magical as the first time it is discovered, we're going to keep the spoilers to a minimum.
Toy Biz is following up on the ambitious action figure line they started for Fellowship of the Ring with a variety of characters for the second installment. The first assortment is detailed fully here, with Faramir, Legolas, Gandalf the White, a Gondorian Ranger and an Easterling making it up. Released concurrently is assortment two with Saruman, Aragorn, Eomer, Theoden, Wormtongue and Rohirrim Soldier which will be covered in a future spotlight. Also released concurrently is an assortment with three two-packs that will also be covered in a future spotlight. Beyond these there is a 10" Sauron figure and a 14" Treebeard figure to be released later, as well as horse and rider packs. There will certainly be more figures in the line including Gollum and there is a Galadriel figure being designed, but the official release dates and make-up of future assortments has yet to be announced.
If you happened to miss the first part of the Lord of the Rings saga, the basic tale is that there's an evil ring out there. The ring itself makes you invisible unless you happen to be the ring's master Sauron, when you stay visible and get to control the other magic rings in the land of Middle Earth. The ring is just as evil as Sauron, so the good guys decide to destroy it. Destroying a ring seems easy except for the one catch - it can only be destroyed in the volcano where it was made, which just happens to be in the middle of the enemy's territory. Getting it there won't be easy, so a group of nine companions set out to destroy the ring. They don't do it on the first part and since there is a part three, they won't do it on part two either.
At the conclusion of part one, the fellowship of nine companions has been broken apart and they are in five groups - two are going to Mordor (the enemy's country), two were captured by orcs and are on their way to one of the two towers from the title, three are tracking the two that are captured, one is dead (you see him die) and the other is maybe dead (he falls down a deep pit). Well, the last really isn't dead and better we spoil it now than a few paragraphs down when you see the figure of him for the second movie.
The two towers of the title are Orthanc, the base of Saruman the White, and Barad-Dur, the base of Sauron. Both towers are working to capture the ring and rule the world. They wouldn't mind killing off all the men of Middle Earth and enslaving everyone else, but one thing at a time. Both guys want the ring, but only one can really control it (and the hint is that his name starts with 's').
The first assortment for The Two Towers consists of five figures, though the Gandalf figure doesn't seem to have shipped with early cases of the line. The other figures should be more available and over time Gandalf will be in good supply. Four of the characters are good in this assortment while the Easterling is the only bad guy. Both Legolas and Gandalf appeared in the first film (and were toys from it) but have different costumes for The Two Towers.
Toy Biz has utilized the talents of toy sculptors as well as laser scanning technology to create authentic figures. Many of the actors had their faces scanned by Gentle Giant Studios to create miniature editions of the actors' likenesses to smooth the approval process and create faithful renditions. The armor, weapons, articulation and action features were then designed to complete the process. The figures are designed around a six-inch scale, meaning that a character six feet tall would be six inches in toy form. All the figures in the first assortment are over six inches tall (the Easterling is a full seven inches), so they should fit in with both six and seven inch toys equally well.
Toy Biz has been setting high standards for articulation in their figures, and this line is no exception. All the figures are highly articulated, with many points designed to be hidden from casual view. They have also incorporated some of the joints that have been used in other lines, such as the ankle joints that have a side-to-side swivel on them.
All figures come on blister cards with a curved front panel that forms a semi-cylinder. The cardback header for the first film had silhouettes of the fellowship while traveling and it has been replaced with those of Gollum, Sam and Frodo as they journey to Mordor. The color of the cards has changed from the soothing green used for the first film to a deep reddish hue. Only Gandalf's card back has all the figures in the assortment pictured, and the rest have just the Ranger, Legolas and the Easterling.
Click on a picture below to see more pictures of that action figure.
Legolas stayed with Aragorn and Gimli after the fellowship was split and went with them to Rohan to rescue Merry and Pippen (who had been captured by Saruman's Uruk-Hai orcs). The Elf stayed with his friends and joined the men of Rohan to fight Saruman at the battle of Helm's Deep, so he figured he'd need to get a little more protection. Legolas added armor and a long sword to his daggers and bow to give him the edge against the orcs, and also to give the costume department some extra work. Orlando Bloom plays Legolas in the film series, and he also dramatically falls down a rope and is rendered unconscious in Blackhawk Down.
Legolas has a bit more gear than the previous action figure incarnation of the woodland Elf. He still has a bow, some arrows and a pair of daggers, but now he's packing a long sword. He wears the cloak that Galadriel gave to him in Lorien (though this scene was cut from the theatrical version) complete with the leaf clasp. The daggers have sheaths that are part of the quiver, and the ornate quiver can hold all the arrows. The bow can shoot with a little help, and the sword fits in a sheath on his belt. He also has shoulder armor from Rohan, to give him a man about Middle Earth look.
The prior action figure of Legolas had an action feature, but this one passes on it. What he has is plenty of joints, and since this isn't a Kevin Smith movie, that means articulation. He has ball-jointed shoulders and thighs, and the neck has a limited ball-joint so he can look up and down a little. The wrists and mid-biceps have twists and the elbows and knees can bend. The ankles just move up and down but the calves have twists that are hidden under the boot cuffs. Whatever else he has hidden, we don't want to know.
Sauron may be many things, but he's an equal opportunity employer when it comes to his henchmen. He might hate men, but if they'll work for him, his attitude changes and he can be very tolerant. The Easterlings are just such men, and they signed up for the great pay, chance to pillage and rape and the excellent 401k. They come from the east as you would expect and they are savage and mean, which is how they got the job.
When you think of a generic henchman figure you might think it would be pretty lame, but the Easterling might be the surprise of the first assortment. The armor for the figure is ornate and complicated yet it looks good and doesn't interfere with any of the articulation. He has a large shield and battle axe and the preferred storage place for the axe is an enemy's head. The shield and the armor are both very ornate, with runes inscribed on them and the armor looks like large scales that overlap. The axe fits into the right hand while the left can hold the shield. The hat looks like a cross between an Asian sun hat and the flying nun.
The figure dispenses with an action feature to instead have lots of cool armor and articulation. The shoulders and thighs are ball-jointed and there are mid-bicep twists. The elbows and knees can all bend and the wrists and waist can twist. The neck has a ball-joint so it can look up and down as well as twisting and the ankles can bend. The calves have twists that are hidden in the boots to add a little more. The mid-bicep and calf articulation is extremely well designed because the scales of the armor overlap other scales to maintain the aesthetic of the figure with play value intact.
Faramir is the brother of Boromir (one of the fellowship) and he leads the rangers of Ithilien. He and Boromir differed greatly in their attitudes and passions, though they both agreed on defending Gondor from the evil of Mordor. As the younger son, Faramir was held in less regard by his father than Boromir and so spent his time as a ranger. In truth, Faramir was much better suited to this role because he didn't love battle as Boromir did, and was far more thoughtful and contemplative. Boromir may come first in the dictionary but he's dead and Faramir isn't. Kind of puts things in perspective. Australian David Wenham plays the role of Faramir.
Faramir is a tried and true tree-hugger, making his way in the forest. He even has a big tree on his chest (okay, it's the white tree of Gondor, but it is a tree) and he has a big bow (that is as tall as Faramir at six and a half inches) that can shoot arrows via the tension on the string (and a bit of help pulling the arrow back). He has five arrows to shoot with (so you can lose a few and still have some fun) and a sword. He has a built-in action feature that allows sword-wielding action when a button on his back is pressed, though you may have to adjust his arm to get it to work properly. He has a sheath for the arrows and his sword and the cape is made of a softer plastic, so it is very flexible.
The action feature doesn't interfere with the articulation, and with all the points on this figure that's a good thing. Both shoulders and thighs are ball-jointed, there are mid-bicep and mid-thigh twists, elbows and knees that bend and twisting wrists. The neck and waist also twist (the neck has some up and down movement but not very much) and the ankles can bend and they have a side-to-side joint. One of the best features of the articulation is that some of it is hidden, like the mid-bicep twists that are jointed at the sleeve border so you can't see it.
Gondor shares a border with Mordor, and this means a constant presence is require to keep Mordor in check, and that's where the Gondorian Rangers come in. These guys are kind of like Robin Hood's merry men, except not wearing tights, being gay and stealing from anyone. They like to dress in green and blue and they do crap in the woods. But they do it with respect, so it's okay, but you have to wonder what they use to wipe. Since there are many of these guys (and they don't all look alike, which differs from the action figures) we can't credit them all. You can credit yourself if you want.
Faramir is the leader of the rangers, so he gets a bow while this guy gets none. He has a quiver on his back, but no arrows to go in it so the lack of bow isn't as bad as you'd think. He does have a sword and what looks like a minor case of Fred Sanford arthritis in the left hand. He has a sheath for his sword and his cape and skirting is very soft and flexible, so it doesn't hamper his movements. He has many layers of clothing, but no action feature unless you give him one. Sometimes those are the best kind.
You could say his action feature is articulation, and for that he's in great shape. The shoulders and thighs have ball-joints, and the joints are very tight on the figure. The elbows and knees can bend and the wrists, waist and neck all have twists. The mid-biceps have twists that are hidden at the sleeve edges and the ankles have a type of ball joint so they can twist and bend and move from side-to-side, though the movement is limited by the sculpting of the boot cuffs.
Gandalf is dead, long live Gandalf. If you saw Fellowship of the Ring you saw Gandalf apparently fall to his death, and if you read Two Towers you know he didn't die. If you have neither read nor seen either, you're confused, which is okay. Gandalf is around for The Two Towers with a slight wardrobe change, he has gone from gray to white. Some speculate the pit was really a huge washing machine, but the truth is far stranger - never let a Balrog do your laundry because they always use too much bleach. The result is a new and improved Gandalf, with spring freshness and a white outfit. Saruman goes by 'the White' already, and since there can be only one they will have to throw down. Put your bets in now. Whether he's white or gray, Sir Ian McKellan is Gandalf and maybe this performance can get him the Academy Award he deserves.
Sir Ian has played two characters that have action figures - both Magneto from the X-Men movie (and X-Men 2 coming next year) and as Gandalf from the first film. In both cases Toy Biz has done the honors, and they have steadily improved on their version. The white Gandalf is the best yet, with a likeness that is closer than the gray one, and better articulation. One thing that didn't change was that he comes with a staff and a sword, though the hat is now missing. He has an action feature that lets him extend his staff and he has a brand new one that goes with his outfit. The sword looks different and is more ornate than the prior version, though he has no hat.
Under the soft and flexible robes he wears Gandalf is more sprightly than most older men. He has ball-jointed thighs and the left shoulder, but the right can only swivel due to the design of the action feature. The left elbow bends but the right only moves well with the action feature. The neck and waist twist and both knees and ankles can bend. The ankles have the side-to-side joint in them so they have a little extra mobility. The sword fits in the sheath on his belt and the staff fits into the right hand, though it is a closed hand and it has to be slid through. His head is bare since he has no hat.
Pictures of Gandalf the White
Pictures of Legolas
Pictures of Gondorian Ranger
Pictures of the Easterling
Pictures of Faramir
|Where to buy Two Towers figures: The Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers action figures retail in the $7.99 to $9.99 USD price range and are sold at most mass-market toy retailers, such as Toys'R'Us, Target, and Wal-Mart, as well as specialty and trend stores, and a variety of online toy and collectibles retailers.
Several such online stores are RTM sponsors Big Bad Toy Store, The Outer Reaches, and NHAtoys.com. (Be sure to check the other RTM sponsors, listed on the Shop Center.)