The Rings of Power’s sparkling success can’t save it from fan backlash

It appears that all is not well in Middle-earth – and that’s before the dark lord Sauron has made his present felt once more.

How come? Well, despite enjoying a barnstorming debut on Prime Video last weekend (September 2 to 4), The Rings of Power, Amazon’s Lord of the Rings TV series, is still being met with fierce resistance from diehard J.R.R. Tolkien fans and viewers alike.

First, the good news where Amazon Studios is concerned: as revealed on Twitter (and via an Amazon press release), The Rings of Power’s two-episode premiere is the biggest in Prime Video history. The show attracted 25 million viewers in the first 24 hours post-launch, breaking all kinds of Prime Video series and movie records for the streaming giant. Compare that to The Rings of Power’s fantasy rival, aka HBO Max‘s House of the Dragon, which drew in just under 10 million viewers for its premiere, and Amazon Studios can rightly claim that it’s won the first battle in the supposedly fierce streaming war between the duo.

Add that to the largely positive reviews it received pre-release – in our spoiler-free review, we said The Rings of Power was an “expensive Lord of the Rings gamble that pays off in fantastical fashion” – and Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series looked like it was onto a winner.

Join the 25 million global viewers this weekend and watch #TheRingsOfPower only on @PrimeVideo. New episodes every Friday. pic.twitter.com/QlFe74KUzmSeptember 4, 2022

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Those sizeable viewing figures and acclaimed review scores don’t tell the full story, though. The Rings of Power was met with criticism in some quarters ahead of launch, with certain sections of the Tolkien fanbase decrying its diverse cast, questionable VFX, and why a Second Age-set Lord of the Rings TV show was even necessary.

However, Amazon’s hope that such negativity would dissipate with the series’ launch hasn’t been forthcoming. Well, for the most part, anyway.

According to data accumulated by BrandWatch, a social media-led consumer research company, 60% of online discussions concerning the Rings of Power post-premiere were mainly negative, with just under 40% of mentions on social media falling into the positive comment category.

Negative sentiments surrounding The Rings of Power outweighed more positive ones post-premiere. (Image credit: BrandWatch)

Per BrandWatch’s research, audience members found The Rings of Power’s plot to be “slow”, “full of bad writing”, and having a “lacking cast”. Other viewers complained about the series’ overreliance on CGI components, while some suggested that the show’s characters weren’t in keeping with similar individuals developed by Tolkien when he wrote The Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and other Middle-earth literature.

As mentioned, though, The Rings of Power wasn’t a terrible watch in the eyes of others. TV aficionados commented on the fact that it hit the right story beats and introduced compelling new characters, all the while respecting Tolkien’s beloved source material. Meanwhile, other fans stated that the cinematography was “breathtaking”, the acting “excellent”, and the show’s multiple plots “full of promise and intrigue”.

Still, The Rings of Power has been met with more negative reactions than positive ones. So, what gives? Why hasn’t it been as well received by general audiences as it has been by critics?

For one, those criticizing the series are likely to be individuals who didn’t want it in the first place. For months, some Tolkienites have vociferously hit out at Amazon’s Lord of the Rings project, claiming it isn’t fitting of the legendary author’s work or his vision for Lord of the Rings as a franchise. 

Those comments might have subconsciously affected the opinions of more casual Lord of the Rings fans ahead of release, too. In an online setting, it’s easy to have your opinion formulated for you, so some viewers may have watched the first two episodes with an idea of how they wanted to react to the series, before actually doing so if they realized it wasn’t as good as they had hoped it to be.

It’s the worst show that I’ve ever watched. Awful acting, dialogue and story. I’m now glad that this has nothing to do with Tolkien or The Lord of the Rings.September 4, 2022

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Then there’s the fact that The Rings of Power is methodical in its storytelling approach. Yes, the series is off to a slow start narratively – but it needed to be. As we noted in our review, The Rings of Power has a lot to set up – new and returning characters, locations we’ve not seen on screen before, multiple storylines, and a brief history of what played out in the First Age in order to set the scene for where the show’s major players are at when we join them.

So sure, The Rings of Power is slow-moving, but its first two episodes had to be so we can get to the good stuff from episode three onwards. If it had barrelled through its opening salvo at a breakneck pace, viewers would have complained it was moving too quickly to follow. The Rings of Power’s showrunners, then, were on a hiding to nothing with how they approached introducing the series to established Tolkien fans and newcomers to the franchise.

The negativity has been so great, in fact, that Amazon has resorted to delaying the publication of Rings of Power reviews on IMDb.com, the review aggregator website it owns (per Variety). Now, user reviews must undergo a rigorous 72-hour evaluation to determine if they’re a genuine review or one written by an online troll or bot.

At the time of writing, The Rings of Power holds a 6.8 out of 10 rating from almost 110,000 IMDb user reviews. However, almost 25% of those (25,645 reviews) have rated the show one star out of 10, hence Amazon’s move to restrict when user reviews are approved.

Sorry, I thought all the haters told me it was going to flop? pic.twitter.com/yZG8TYjUMnSeptember 3, 2022

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Sadly, The Rings of Power isn’t the only show that’s been review bombed on IMDb recently. Another Prime Video show in A League of Their Own, as well as Marvel projects, such as Ms Marvel and She-Hulk, have been met with negative reviews simply because they have female characters in lead roles. For Amazon, though, The Rings of Power’s negative reviews have hit twice as hard, what with its positioning as a major TV release for this year and the popularity of The Lord of the Rings franchise.

Despite its sparkling success from viewership and critics’ perspectives, The Rings of Power hasn’t been the universal triumph that Amazon will have hoped it to be.

And that’s a crying shame. Tolkien himself wrote: “Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on on the story” – a fitting quote that demonstrates why fans should give The Rings of Power a fair chance before they give their full verdict on it. There are six episodes left in season 1, while a second season is set to begin filming soon.

It’s time, then, for fans to give The Rings of Power a chance to truly shine. If it doesn’t deliver on its early promise, those criticisms will be more than valid. But let’s allow it the opportunity to glimmer first before we cast this particular show into the fires of Mount Doom.

For more Rings of Power content, read our interview feature with the cast and crew to find out how and why Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series breaks with the franchise’s traditions. Alternatively, find out what the showrunners and executive producer think of The Lord of the Rings IP’s new owners.

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