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Tolkien Review

May 10, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Tolkien Nicholas Hoult
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Tolkien Review  

Directed By: Dome Karukoski
Written By: David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford
Runtime: 112 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some sequences of war violence

Nicholas Hoult – J.R.R. Tolkien
Lily Collins – Edith Bratt
Tom Glynn-Carney – Christopher Wiseman
Anthony Boyle – Geoffrey Smith
Patrick Gibson – Robert Gilson
Colm Meaney – Father Francis
Owen Teale – Owen Teale
Derek Jacobi – Prof. Joseph Wright
Craig Roberts – Private Sam Hodges
Guillermo Bedward – Hilary Tolkien
Laura Donnelly – Mabel Tolkien
Harry Gilby – Young J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien is the new biopic of the life and times of one of the world’s most influential writers, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, the writer and creator of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien explores his youth and formative years as he gains inspiration for his work and also the harrowing period where he enlisted in the military and fought in the Great War. Unfortunately, Tolkien doesn’t seem to amount for much more than a rough cliff notes version of Tolkien’s life and never really ascends to greater heights.

The film begins some time after the passing of Tolkien’s father, with his mother Mabel (Donnelly) uprooting Tolkien and his brother to London. After his mother’s tragic death, Tolkien enrolls in a boarding school, where he eventually forms a bond and friendship with Robert Gilson, Geoffrey Bache Smith and Christopher Wiseman. Eventually, Tolkien grows into a young man when he meets and is quite taken by Edith Bratt, a young woman who lives in the same boarding house as Tolkien. However their potential relationship is frowned upon by Tolkien’s caretaker, Father Francis (Colm Meaney).

Having had a longtime fascination with languages, Tolkien starts formulating his own words and language. While attending Oxford, he finds a kindred spirit for language and a mentor in Prof. Joseph Wright who helps hone Tolkien’s gift for creating words and language, noting the importance in the stories behind words and language, as the key to language is giving words their own history and meaning. Later, England becomes part of the Great War, and Tolkien and his longtime friends enlist in the military, splintering their group apart.

Tolkien is simply tacky. It’s a very superfluous depiction in trying to present the real-life story of J.R.R. Tolkien. The use of fantasy imagery in the real-life horrors Tolkien faced is especially nonsensical. The film is highly reminiscent of the DC’s Legends of Tomorrow episode, “The Fellowship of the Spear.” In that episode the heroes meet a young J.R.R. Tolkien during the Great War, and there are a multitude of references to The Lord of the Rings. The obvious indication is that the heroes, with their actions, inspire Tolkien’s later stories and The Lord of the Rings. The problem is that the aforementioned Legends of Tomorrow episode constantly uses references from the Rings film trilogy that are exclusive to that adaptation and have nothing to do with Tolkien’s books or writing.

In this version, Tolkien sees a soldier with a flamethrower as a dragon. He sees a dark, shadowy figure in the No Man’s Land who resembles Sauron. Oh, and he has a faithful, loyal companion in his regiment who happens to be Sam [Get it, like Samwise Gamgee?]. Director Dome Karukoski uses ideas and visualizations such as this as a crutch. As a result, the movie lacks true substance. Tolkien is filled with various contrived references to The Lord of the Rings movies that seem to cater to the film viewers of that film series rather than those who are familiar with Tolkien’s actual literature.

Additionally, the movie mostly glosses over Tolkien’s fascination and work with languages. There is a disconnect in the impetus for Tolkien’s fantasy stories as a way to create a mythology and history for the languages he was creating. Instead, Karukoski and writers David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford seem far more interested in creating a feature-length montage of what seem like unrealistic moments from The Lord of the Rings that Tolkien may or may not have experienced in real life.

The performances are not all bad. If anyone is the weak link, it’s Nicholas Hoult, who constitutes a very bland presence as young Tolkien. Hoult might be capable of becoming a strong leading actor, but he was not able to prove that here. Much like his meager performance as Hank McCoy in the X-Men film franchise, he generally lacks charisma and energy in these types of roles. It’s a stark contrast to what he was able to pull off in Mad Max: Fury Road as the War Boy, Nux. Apparently, Hoult is only able to excel when playing against his bland leading role type.

The supporting cast, such as Colm Meany and Derek Jacobi are far more compelling. Lily Collins has a very thankless role as Tolkien’s love interest, Edith Bratt. Their relationship that could have used far more development.

Overall, Tolkien is a rather pedestrian biopic. It lacks a sense of authenticity and truth of the real person behind some of the world’s greatest fantasy literature. As a story behind the life and times of the great author, it’s a pretty big misfire.

The final score: review Poor
The 411
Tolkien is a rather undercooked and underwhelming biopic and look at the life of J.R.R. Tolkien. It seems to cater more toward the film viewers of The Lord of the Rings trilogy rather than actually delving into the actual life of J.R.R Tolkien, his writing, literature, the creation of The Hobbit and later, The Lord of the Rings. It's basically that Legends of Tomorrow episode all over again.