Reviews for Ian McKellen in The Lord of the Rings

Here's what the critics have had to say
about Ian McKellen in The Lord of the Rings

As Gandalf the White in The Return of the King:

Michael Wilmington
The Chicago Tribune
McKellen's Gandalf gives the movie even more gravitas, stature and believable nobility than Alec Guinness lent to the first "Star Wars." With his hawklike, kingly features and weathered wizard's mien, McKellen , yet another well-deserving aristocrat of British acting, seems a perfect Gandalf, a figure of near-Shakespearean visual eloquence. (with even a quasi-Shakespearean speech or two).
James Berardinelli
For the first time, Gandalf is on screen for a significant portion of time (rather than somewhere in the distance fighting a balrog, trapped by Saruman, or rounding up the Riders of Rohan). McKellen presents the wizard as a man of great wisdom, little patience, and incomparable battle skill. Using a sword and staff instead of magic, Gandalf proceeds to kick butt big-time. In fantasy mythology, Gandalf is second only to Merlin when it comes to famous sorcerers. On screen, McKellen's wizard is second to none.
Anthony Lane
The New Yorker
Gandalf not only plots the triumph of justice but takes a valorous role in its fulfillment, at one point wielding his staff with an éclat that might stop even Uma Thurman in her tracks. It's a wonderful part for Ian McKellen, constantly calling upon the high, hard, declamatory style that he refined onstage, and that reappears here in the warnings that Gandalf delivers to his anxious companions. "It's so quiet," Pippin says, to which the Wise One replies, "It's the deep breath before the storm."

McKellen was the best Uncle Vanya I have seen, and the best thing in his performance, at London's National Theatre, came after the final line, when Vanya fussed around his study, shuffling papers and tidying the desk. He was trying, however trivially, to assert some order, though both he and we knew that his soul was in disarray. There is little time, even over nine hours of "The Lord of the Rings," for that kind of casual detail, and one treasures it when it comes—when Gandalf turns to the garrulous Pippin on the threshold of a court, urges him not to mention certain matters when they enter, then pauses and adds, "In fact, it's better if you don't speak at all." McKellen times the advice so beautifully that the audience laughs in relief, as if we helplessly hankered for comedy, however mild, when the fate of civilizations is up for grabs.

Richard Corliss
At one point Aragorn asks Gandalf, "What does your heart tell you?" and in a little movie epiphany, the wizard's face briefly warms, brightens, and he says, "That Frodo is alive."
Terry Lawson
Detroit Free Press
Ian McKellen's performance is every bit as artful as his Shakespearean triumphs.
Moira Macdonald
The Seattle Times
Ian McKellen's wise Gandalf makes heroic appearances throughout the movie, riding his white steed and swinging his staff and sword like the greatest of warriors. (And McKellen can move worlds with his kindly smile, seen to good effect late in the film.)
Ebert & Roeper The dominant character in part three is the wizard Gandalf played by Ian McKellen who is more all-knowing and authoritative than ever before.
Kenneth Turan
The Los Angeles Times
One of the most satisfying aspects of "The Return of the King" is that some of the actors we've seen the most of do especially well here. McKellen makes the most of Gandalf's moments, Mortensen increasingly becomes the epitome of heroic grace, and Astin brings the kind of dignity and quiet strength to Sam increasingly called for by the role.
Claire Harvey
The Weekend Australian
One of the film's best shots is wizard Gandalf, played by Ian McKellen, charging on horseback through the steep, narrow, cobbled streets of the fortified city Minas Tirith. "He's been to the osteopath," Sir Ian said of Gandalf, who takes on the fight against evil with new energy.
Nev Pierce
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."
Rich Cline
Shadows on the Wall
McKellen continues to add spark and soul with his perfect blending of wit and gravitas.
Robin Clifford
Reeling Reviews
Ian McKellen is perfect as the powerful wizard, Gandalf the White, and captures the screen every time he appears.

As Gandalf the White in The Two Towers:

Russell Swensen
LA Weekly
Gandalf (Ian McKellen, apple wry and dry as ice) again lends the story much-needed authority and conviction; in his standoff with the Balrog (flashed back to in The Two Towers), it's not the massive demon who holds our attention, but McKellen's thundering intonations.
Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times
Ian McKellen as the resurrected wizard Gandalf brings some welcome humor to the screen (watch his deadpan little wink on the line "You would not part an old man from his walking stick?").
Peter Bradshaw
The Guardian
McKellen, as ever, is a joy. He has real charisma; what a mystery it is that he has not worked more on the big screen. Gandalf is certainly the only character capable of being funny or impish without being heavy-handed.
Anthony Quinn
The Independent
Ian McKellen is slyly suave as the wizard Gandalf, who makes one of the greatest comebacks since Muhammad Ali.
Charles Taylor
I don't know why, playing a wizard, McKellen should seem more human and be more likable than he has ever been on-screen. It can't be just the bulbous fake nose that gives him a touch of fleshiness. It's that he plays Gandalf with a mischievous sagacity that, in the dramatic scenes, translates into real authority.

As Gandalf the Grey in The Fellowship of The Ring:

Todd McCarthy
"McKellen delivers Gandalf with great relish and gusto, giving the picture a shot in the arm whenever he's around, which is often. Those who grab the "Rings" at the start will anxiously await Frodo's trip into ever more perilous territory a year hence."
Kenneth Turan
Los Angeles Times
"McKellen as the wizard Gandalf is the film's irreplaceable central figure. Radiating power and wisdom, tossing out piercing looks as deftly as he wields his magical staff, McKellen's exceptional presence makes the actuality of 'Fellowship' unassailable. To see the man who was the fey James Whale in 'Gods and Monsters' in full battle mode against the forces of evil is to understand what a great actor can accomplish."
David Hunter
The Hollywood Reporter
"McKellen is superb. [Fellowship is] one of those rewarding movies that seems to get better and better as it progresses."
David Germain
Associated Press
"One of the finest fantasy films ever made . . . a thrilling, eye-filling epic. The film should be a serious contender for best-picture, director and some acting nods. The cast is superb, especially McKellen with his kindly imperiousness as Gandalf."
David Ansen
"McKellen is a playfully magisterial Gandalf. THE MOVIE WORKS. It has real passion, real emotion, real terror, and a tactile sense of evil that is missing in that other current movie dealing with wizards, wonders and wickedness."

Mick LaSalle
San Francisco Chronicle

"McKellen is particularly splendid. In him, the aura of a great wizard and a great stage actor combine effortlessly. He inhabits Gandalf without camp or bravado, but with a sly sense of enjoyment that makes it a characterization for adults as well as children. One gets the sense that McKellen understands the profundity of the role, and yet some part of him is also thinking, 'Can you believe I get to wear this hat?' It's thoroughly winning."

Desson Howe
The Washington Post

"And speaking of glorious, Ian McKellen (who plays Gandalf) takes firm charge of this epic quest."

Colin Covert
Minneapolis Star Tribune

"McKellen towers as Gandalf, one moment a kindly grandfather, the next a thundering Moses, and the next a heroic warrior."

Roger Ebert
Chicago Sun Times

"A work for, and of, our times. It is a candidate for many Oscars. It is an awesome production in its daring and breadth. Gandalf the good wizard (Ian McKellen) and Saruman the treacherous wizard (Christopher Lee) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), who is the warrior know as Strider, are so well-seen and acted, so fearsome in battle, that we can't imagine the hobbits getting anywhere without them."
Christopher Tookey
Daily Mail
"LORD OF THE OSCARS. Forget Harry Potter, this has the true ring of greatness... A landmark in cinema, an awesome feat of imagination and daring...Two of our most talented theatrical knights , Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf) and Sir Ian Holm (Bilbo) give their finest, most multi-faceted performances on film." 
Andrew O'Hehir
"Ian McKellen doesn't behave as if he were burdened by anything. His role as the benevolent wizard Gandalf the Grey, alternately commanding and avuncular, is in many respects the human glue that holds Jackson's film together. Movies that assault the box office as this one probably will are not customarily rewarded at Oscar time; this film, and McKellen's performance in particular, may be an exception."
Alex O'Connell
Daily Telegraph
"McKellen brings a wonderful gravitas to the proceedings . His Gandalf is kind but firm. worthy of respect but never scary. If McKellen and Christopher Lee (Saruman) don't win Oscar nominations, I'm an orc."
Richard Corliss
"A bigger, richer, way-better film than Harry Potter. Ian McKellen has a lovely time as the wizard Gandalf; he sparkles with wisdom, humor, sympathy and worry."
Peter Travers
Rolling Stone
"The Best Film of the Year. It looms like a colossus over the Hollywood epics of 2001. Director Peter Jackson combines mythic power and breathless Indiana Jones adventure to create a film that is both intimate and epic. McKellen is witty and magisterial . . . an enviable combo. It's a terrific performance!"
Lisa Schwarzbaum
Entertainment Weekly
"Thrilling — a great picture, a triumphant picture, a joyfully conceived work of cinema. I may have never turned a page of Tolkien, but I know enchantment when I see it. Movie of the Year."
Susan Stark
Detroit News
"England's peerless Ian McKellen plays Gandalf and, truth be told, his performance is worth more to the success of the film than all the effects, visual and aural, combined. McKellen brings everything from twinkling eyes to Learlike rage to the performance. He's Obi-wan Kenobi touched by Puck. There's just no calculating the impact of his work on the affective power of the piece."
Michael Sragow
Balimore Sun
"Presiding over their blood, sweat, and tears - and a surprising amount of laughter - is Gandalf the wizard, and Ian McKellen portrays him with towering wit and authority. McKellen single-handedly transports us to the arena of heightened emotion that was the natural realm of great epic actors in the silent films. He makes Gandalf's fondness for the hobbits resound more strongly than other actors' turbulent love paeans. His desperation as he fights the morally debased sorcerer Saruman (Christopher Lee) evokes fearful awe at the fragility of even a wizard's life. McKellen sets the bar high."
Cosmo Landesman
The Times
"Gandalf is a perfect pipe-puffing mix of gravitas and goodness. A blockbuster that actually delivers the goods. This film is so terrific that after almost three hours in the cinema you leave for home longing for more."
Emanuel Levy
Screen Daily
"Bound to assume a place of honour in film history."
Jonathan Ross
The Mirror
"The magical movie we've really been waiting for... One of the best fantasy films ever made... All the cast are uniformly brilliant... The battle scenes are to die for, and the melding of special effects and live action is pure genius... I haven't had so much fun in ages."
Harry Knowles
Aint It Cool News
"It is everything I ever hoped it would or could be.
Laura Clifford
Reeling Reviews
"McKellen simply is Gandalf and his spirit pervades the film like Alec Guinness' Obi-Wan. The Academy should take note. Jackson's films are sure to take the 'Star Wars' mantle as beloved mythic epic for a new generation."
CNN "Flawless . . . a spectacular holiday gift for the whole world . . . sure to become instant classics. . . nothing less then a cinematic miracle . . . an amazing tapestry of visual delights. Acting of the highest order. McKellen is sheer perfection as Gandalf."
Peter Howell
Toronto Star
"Guiding and testing Frodo is stage and screen veteran Ian McKellen, who is the movie's dramatic heart in the role of Gandalf, the wise and mysterious wizard who uncovers Sauron's evil ring plot, and who joins with the Fellowship to defeat it. McKellen exhibits all emotions - smiling like Santa one minute, raging like King Lear the next - but he remains inside the tale, not on top of it."
Bob Mondello
NPR All Things Considered
"An often-thrilling movie, the sort of rip-roaring satisfying entertainment that will make Middle-earth believers out of pretty much anyone. There hasn't been a spectacle like LOTR in years."
Neil Roberts
The Sun
"THE RINGS LORDS IT OVER POOR POTTER. No matter how far-fetched the plot or the characters, all scepticism is blown away by the sheer scale and realism of the sets, make-up and special effects plus an acting performance by Ian McKellen that even puts Potter's Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane in the shade." 
Gerry Shamray
Cleveland Sun
"Elijah Wood's Frodo and Ian McKellen's Gandalf are the cornerstones of the grand cast. McKellen is in total control as the masterful wizard. Every strand of his beard reveals earnest conviction. There's human emotion and despair — not action for action's sake — in his first battle with Saruman, splendidly portrayed by Christopher Lee. These marvelous performances will hook you on the residents of Middle-earth."
Jeanne Aufmuth
Palo Alto Weekly
"McKellen deserves an Oscar for parlaying his craft into sheer warmth and wisdom."
Eric Moro
"I can think of no better Gandalf than Ian McKellen - an actor whose very presence screams Old World magic."
Nick Nunziata
"While Ian McKellen was the obvious and perfect choice for Gandalf, he does anything but sleepwalk through the role. He's a man of incredible knowledge but also of strength. This is not a super powered but physically plain Magneto or the crafty Arthur Dussander McKellen has portrayed before. This is a WARRIOR. While Gandalf is an older man who uses magic, when he raises his voice you BELIEVE IT. When he reaches for a sword as orc approach, you know there's going to be some ventilated beasts on the ground. Excellent work, and while I didn't need any evidence to know he's a guy who juggles art and commerce with the best of them I absolutely love him for his talent and savvy now more than ever."
Eleanor Ringle Gillespie
Atlanta Journal Constitution
"One of the best — if not THE best — movies of the year."
Michael Wilmington
Chicago Tribune 
"Ian McKellen . . . the film's indisputable top performance . . . a great performance."
David D. Snider
Daily Herald
"The most thrilling adventure movie in at least a decade, and one of the most visceral, emotional films of the year When it's not stopping your heart, it's breaking it, filling it or lightening it."
Jack Matthews
New York Daily News
" 'Fellowship' is a rich tapestry of characters, places and events, anchored by a superb performance from McKellen."
Jay Carr
The Boston Globe
"Ian McKellen makes a wonderful Gandalf the Grey, convincing us he is a wizard of stature, but also endearingly prone to occasional lapses." 
Andy Dougan
Glasgow Evening Times
"This is the most audacious, exciting, spectacular, breathtaking, imaginative and flat-out entertaining film I have seen in quite some time. Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee as the wizard protagonists Gandalf and Saruman are magnificent. Give Lord of the Rings every Oscar for which it is eligible and save ourselves a lot of guesswork next March."
Mary F. Pols
Contra Costa Times
"A soulful, passionate giant of a movie, one that will live long past 2001."

The Grey Book: Ian McKellen's Blog 1999-2001

The White Book: Ian McKellen's Blog 2002-2003

E-Posts: Ian McKellen Answers Your Questions about LOTR (2000-2008)

The Lord of the Rings

The Hobbit

More Blogs by Ian McKellen

Ian McKellen's Home Page

Acting Shakespeare Ian McKellen DVD