Majestic, moving and immense, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King is about as awesome as cinema gets. Sure, there are some problems, but it's hard to imagine a more assured adaptation of the final volume of JRR Tolkien's fantasy masterwork. Combining the 'ooh' factor of Fellowship with the zippy action of Towers, Peter Jackson's monster epic sees Frodo (Elijah Wood) and friends continue their quest to destroy the all-powerful One Ring, and free Middle-earth of evil.
It's an astonishing piece of storytelling, sacrificing little of the novel, as it nimbly switches between several story strands without becoming confusing or dull (despite being a bum-numbing 201 minutes).
The first film's Fellowship is still split. Pint-sized Ring-bearers Frodo and Sam (Sean Astin) are being led by the grisly Gollum (Andy Serkis) into the dark heart of Mordor; Gandalf (Ian McKellen) needs to deal with the off-his-chump Steward of Gondor (John Noble); while the kingdom's rightful king, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), must walk the Paths Of The Dead (oooh!) and muster an unearthly army.
And there's fighting. Lots of fighting. Even after Towers' spectacular scrap at Helms Deep, the battle for Minas Tirith is astonishing. Dragon-like nasties join with thousands of foul-faced orcs and troll-powered catapults to attack the city. The arrival of Mûmakil (huge, multi-tusked, elephant-type beasties), meanwhile, gives lithe elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom) an audience-pleasing spot of shooting'n'surfing.
Gimli the dwarf (John Rhys-Davies) provides comic relief ("Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?") and Astin is excellent again. Serkis is Oscar worthy.
Inevitably, some elements are less effective. While showing impressive steel as the Ring inflicts its power upon him, Wood is all moist, soft-focus simpering elsewhere. The super-eeevil Eye Of Sauron resembles an angry lighthouse. And there are about 674 endings, as Jackson tries to include everything from the book's rather leisurely conclusion.
But these issues evaporate given that his achievement is so stunning elsewhere. As the tagline proclaims, "the journey ends". But you'll want to take it again and again. And if your eyes leak along the way... well, as Gandalf says, "Not all tears are an evil."