Imagine a thin sheet layer of ice spread over a super deep lake. Now imagine that a person steps on the ice and falls through. When they try to get out, they can make some small dents, even punching holes through the ice at points, but at the end they remain stuck in the water. That’s how I’d describe Tolkien.
There is this thin layer of a really boring biopic about the life of J.R.R Tolkien, writer of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and that person is this enjoyable romantic war film that I think is what this film should have been. Heck, it’s not like the Tolkien family actually worked with the filmmakers, they actually disowned the film! Well, that’s besides the point. Let’s dive right into Tolkien.
So, as always, starting with the best part of the film, all of Tolkien’s best moments come from the relationship between good ol J.R.R played by Nicholas Hoult of the recent X-Men films, and his love interest Edith Bratt, played by Lily Collins of Rules Don’t Apply. While it is by no means an actually fantastic romance, the fact that there is actually some chemistry there is nice to see in a romance film.
You wouldn’t think that that would be too hard to accomplish, but at this point in 2019, it’s only happened once (Isn’t It Romantic) and by God, I was ecstatic that there was actually something here! Hoult and Collins do share some kind of a spark on screen and it is quite pleasing for something to actually happen like a small little escapade or just one little action to happen so we can see the love actually forming between these two. These moments provide the foundation of the film, and make it much more watchable than it would have been without.
Sadly though, that’s the only good thing I have to say about the film. The performances are average, the costume design is decent, but nothing too noteworthy. So it’s time to get to the bad, and with this film there are some downright terrible things. The first negative to discuss would be the sort of framing device of the story. It starts with our buddy Tolkien in the trenches of the Somme and he thinks back to his youth and how he too lived the life that nearly every famous person in a biopic taking place in the late 1800s/early 1900s had. I’ll get back to that, but let’s continue with this stuff with the war.
This is, somehow, the most boring part of the film. It pretty much just consists of Nicholas Hoult running around a trench and a pit of dead bodies while Hoult is yelling out one of his friends names. Then they actually go into battle and somehow, and I didn’t even know this was possible, but somehow they made World War One with dragons, ringwraiths, and other stuff from those movies boring. They somehow did it, they made it boring! That’s kind of a metaphor for the whole movie, but I digress. At least Tolkien achieved something I thought impossible.
Now, as I said earlier, Tolkien pretty much follows every single freaking cliche in every biopic taking place in this time period. What are those cliches, you ask? This means that his dead is dead/gone, his mom is dying, he has to go into something with the Catholic Church, and he meets a young girl at school, blah blah blah blah, and it is so painfully dull. I knew every single direction it would take, and I’m not even a Lord of the Rings fan! I knew next to nothing about J.R.R Tolkien except the fact he wrote the franchise, but I could see every route this movie would go down the path of!
Have you seen At Eternity’s Gate? Don’t worry, no one else did either. Anyway, that biopic of Van Gogh is another painfully boring, paint by numbers, pretentious spewing out of its ears biopic about a famous figure in the arts that is attempting to win an Oscar. I really hope that this one doesn’t receive a nomination like Willem Dafoe did.
Speaking of pretentious, that is what in my opinion is the worst thing about his movie. I admit, I enjoy pretentious films. Vox Lux, The Matrix and American Beauty (At least the stuff about the shopping bag) are all extremely pretentious films and are all among my favorite films. That should speak volumes to the fact that even I couldn’t handle the pretentiousness of Tolkien.
There is an entire scene around the beginning of the film with club that the four male protagonists start where I was wide eyed in disbelief that a film this pretentious was allowed to be made. I would understand if they were in a college aged scene, or even a pre-college scene (Hoult still plays Tolkien here, even though he is almost thirty), but no, they had to give this dialogue to the group when they are at most, maybe thirteen. I’m not from England, nor did I live in the early 1900s, but I still don’t think that thirteen year olds from England in the early 1900s would be examining philosophy to that extent. It is painful, painful, to watch this film attempt pretentious moments, because the only thing worse than a film trying to be pretentious is a film try to be pretentious and fail.
Well, that wraps up my thoughts on Tolkien. You can probably guess that I did not enjoy the film. It was pretentious, boring, and kind of all over the place. As I said in the beginning, if this film was made into just a pure romance about a man who falls in love with a woman above his social class, he gets sent off to war, and he comes back to love her again, this movie may have had a chance to be good.
It would need some plot restructuring and definitely need to have the stuff involving the club cut out, but that movie still wouldn’t be great. It would merely be less bad, so while I can’t in good conscious recommend this film, I would definitely would say that it is… watchable? However, it does not pass my key test. If this and National Treasure: Book of Secrets were both on at the same time, I would rather watch the latter. This movie definitely does not rule all.