I wasn’t looking forward to sitting through this film, because I figured it was just one more monetization-iteration of the legacy of J.R.R. Tolkien, who reworked ancient myths and legends into The Hobbit, The Lord of The Rings, and The Silmarillion, books of prose, poetry, fantasy, and morality that continue to be remade and emulated and cashed-in on (mostly right now with the whole Game of Thrones thing, no offense), so I was pleasantly surprised by this biopic, in spite of the fact that it means the Tolkien Industry remains in full swing.
Tolkien is a good movie if you are already a fan of Tolkien’s books. There’s no way you can be interested in those tales and not find yourself receptive to learning more about the author’s early life and scholarly and artistic work, the foundation of the world of legend he created. Although it only exists as a major motion picture because the Lord of the Rings Universe is a globe-bestriding entertainment franchise, the movie returns to the truth that all the business with the orc armies and the hobbits and the Lego-brand Legolas minifigures was the particular and solitary work of one person’s imagination, his experience and character and fixations. The study of linguistics, for example, is an important element of the film, and so if you’ve enjoyed Tolkien’s books, words and runes printed on pages, it will prove interesting.
If you’re just into the Peter Jackson movies—and maybe the Ralph Bakshi movie—and the visuals and the action, this film might make you interested in the source texts, or it might not, since it tells a straightforward dramatic story about Tolkien’s formative years, his upbringing and education, and his life experiences leading up to his books, and there aren’t a lot of dragons and stuff, just saying. It’s still a good movie, and if you have somehow escaped exposure to Tolkien’s work, there’s a story here that stands on its own.
Can you SPOILER a biopic? It can’t really be a spoiler that Tolkien’s experiences in The Great War are presented as informing his novels. The conflict presented is based on the terrible trench warfare of World War I, and the majority of the film has the Downton Abbey period look.
There are small segments of the film that are surreal, and they don’t play as anything other than obvious as they map parts of Tolkien’s life to his writing. A few clunky statements land, such as when Tolkien’s artsy school chums try to decide what they will call their little club, group, alliance, maybe, of associates.
For the most part though, the early adversity of Tolkien’s life, becoming along with his brother, an orphan after losing his mother, who instilled in him a love for stories and the belief that a life of adversity might be rewarded with a great treasure, lights a way clearly through to the creation of the journeys and trials and feelings of family in his tales.
It’s also a very effective emotional and romantic story, with lots of early 1900s English atmosphere and house porn, so this could also be a good date movie, and if you haven’t read the books in a while, this movie will absolutely inspire you to revisit them.