Movie review: 'Tolkien' biopic a portrait of fellowship and fantasy

This is the story of how life’s journeys, from personal courage to finding love to last a lifetime, became a story of magic and mountains and wizards and dragons.

This is “Tolkien,” the personal story of the author behind “The Lord of the Rings,” and it shows us how life is a quest in so many ways when it comes to love (magic) and overcoming obstacles (like mountains and dragons).

The number of pieces written about J.R.R. Tolkien are legion, and most are more intelligent than this film. But the one thing this biopic does beautifully is establish the importance of friends and forming a tight bond.

A fellowship, if you will.

That would be a nod to the author’s literary adventure epics — the movie is full of foreshadowing — and to Peter Jackson’s more recent blockbuster movies.

Finnish director Dome Karukoski plots his tale by initially showing Tolkien (pronounced toll-keen in the movie) during his service in World War I at Somme, deep in the desperation of the trenches in France.

This is interwoven for most of two hours with scenes of the rest of his life in England, from his orphaned beginnings to his education and growing imagination.

The former is a mistake because the film would have you believe that Tolkien spent the war with a fever, forcing him to rest in a giant pile of mud, blood and dead bodies near the front line.

Fans should try to forgive that part and focus on moments like Tolkien’s mother being a wonderful fantasy storyteller to her children before her death. And especially the forming of a brotherhood that he finds with three boys at an exclusive school he attends, thanks to his being taken in by a wealthy benefactor.

They are an intelligent but rowdy bunch from slugging it out on the rugby field to chasing girls.

The bond is deepened by these Oxford and Cambridge students also being aspiring artists, from poetry to composing to writing, and each appreciating the challenges of creativity and supporting one another in their pursuits.

If you like stories about the arts and about great friendships, “Tolkien” will satisfy on both accounts.

In a film so focused on its subject, Nicholas Hoult is the type of actor who perfectly falls into character-actor mode rather than making a star turn, which he always does so well from his shy-guy appearances in “X-Men” movies to his more harsh turn in “The Favourite.”

His Tolkien is a dedicated friend-to-the-end, a teen with an active imagination (from daydreaming fantasy images to his illustrations) and a young man smitten with a young woman.

The romance is clumsily depicted between Tolkien and Edith, a fellow orphan in the same house portrayed with all the emotion that the underachieving Lily Collins and her eyebrows can produce.

But while the war scenes feel tacked on and the love story feels manufactured despite being true, the movie can always fall back on its moments, and those friends, upon which the “Lord of the Rings” origins are constructed.

The best writers understand that they should write what they know, and in creating one of the world’s great literary fantasy tales, we come to understand how Tolkien learned the meaning of fellowship, the power of love and the brutality of battle.

Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Patrick Gibson, Derek Jacobi, Laura Donnelly, Colm Meaney

Theaters: Circle Cinema, AMC Southroads 20

Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (sequences of war violence)

Quality: STARS 2.5 (4 stars = one of the year's best films; 3 stars = good movie; 2 stars = there are better movies out there ; 1 star = nothing to see here)

Tulsa World (OK)

5/10/2019 12:24:53 AM Central Daylight Time

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