Peter Jackson's epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings continues with this dark and desperate tale of warfare between men and monsters, more graphic in its violence and more fantastic in its imaginings than the first film. The Fellowship of the Ring, charged with returning a powerful ring to its supernatural source in the evil land of Mordor, has splintered, and so has the narrative: Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), the Hobbit protector of the ring, engages a nasty little creature called Gollum (a digital creation guided by the movements of actor Andy Serkis) to lead him to Mordor. Hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) escape from the terrifying Orcs and wander through the enchanted Fangorn Forest, where they're adopted by an even more amazing creation, the curmudgeonly tree creature Treebeard (John Rhys-Davies). And the hunky human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) leads the kingdom of Rohan against impossible odds as 10,000 Orcs plunge toward the fortress at Helm's Deep. The battle scenes, which owe a debt to Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness, were animated with an AI program that gave each body autonomous movement. A third episode will follow in December 2003, concluding what is so far one of cinema's most absorbing fantasies. 179 min. Burnham Plaza, Century 12 and CineArts 6, Crown Village 18, Davis, Ford City, Gardens 1-6, Golf Glen, Lincoln Village, Norridge, North Riverside, River East 21, Village North, Webster Place.