Note: Yeah, I know the movie is more than a year old. This has been sitting on my laptop for a year, so I’m finally publishing it.
A summary of Tauriel’s plot in “Battle of the Five Armies” is as follows: protect Kili by leaving Lake Town, join Legolas in a northward excursion, fight with Thranduil over Kili and love, go looking for Kili, watch Kili die, lose consciousness, mourn over Kili. This sucks.
In the last movie, Tauriel was a great warrior, a means through which to explore Elven racism, a woman motivated by curiosity about the world and desire to protect it. In this movie, she’s motivated by love of Kili. That’s it. That’s her whole motivation, the crux of her character. Love. “Was it real?”
Look, it’s a good movie, easily the best dramatic piece of the three prequels. But they dropped the ball with Tauriel. In one interview, Evangeline Lily claims that the essence of her character is that of the warrior—but Tauriel only has two (very brief and non-flashy) orc kills in this movie, and her big fight scene involves being brutally beaten and saved by her two love interests.
In truth, as befits a hobbit, the story being told in this movie is a simple one. It boils down to revenge, greed, and love—urges which motivate each character. Love is the strongest of these motivations, and it drives most of the characters: love of comrades (the dwarves), love of a long dead wife (Thranduil), love of friends (Bilbo), and finally romantic love (Tauriel, Legolas).
I try to criticize the movie that was made, not the movie that wasn’t, but I can’t help myself this time. The argument could be made that in Tauriel’s plot, this subtext of love merely becomes text. But in all honesty, the subtext could have remained subtext. I don’t have a problem with the existence of a romantic subplot, and I don’t care about the love triangle thing that bothers so many people; what I do care about is the fact that the movie’s only major female character is motivated almost exclusively by romantic love; not only does the audience know that, even the other characters reduce her to “love” rather than taking anything she says seriously. Thranduil only talks about who she’s in love with, Legolas is apparently in love with her, and Kili is in love with her. Those are all the characters she talks to in these films.
These movies are ultimately about the power of friendship, friendships which bridge all divides and give men the strength to fight. I say men deliberately, because with this movie women are essentially excluded from the friendships of ALL of the Rings movies. Tauriel has no important friendships, only romantic entanglements. There was originally not supposed to be a romantic plot between her and Legolas, but the transformation of that relationship from friendship to romance excluded the only major female character in these movies from their central theme.
Finally, although Kili and Tauriel are the only example of romantic love in the Hobbit films, only Tauriel’s actions are actually ruled by that love. Until the very end, when he attacks Bolg, Kili’s actions never change based on Tauriel. He shows no hesitation in attacking the elves with the other dwarves, and Tauriel never comes up when he speaks to the other members of the Company. Yet, he asks Tauriel to come with him to the Mountain and give up all her bonds to the Woodland Realm. Meanwhile, hoping to help him, Tauriel goes alone into a horde of orcs, then practically commits suicide trying to avenge him.
Weirdly, in spite of how dick-ish he was in the last film, here Legolas’s actions come off best of the three: he’s willing to defy his father for Tauriel, he volunteers to go with her to rescue Kili, and he has big heroics fighting Bolg to save Tauriel. Yet, he ends up in self-imposed exile. In fairness, this goes a long way to redeeming him from the jerk he was in the last movie, but he still needs an attitude adjustment.
I will admit that I found the love story between Tauriel and Kili interesting (if not well done). I liked its inclusion because it brought issues of racial politics into the LOTR movie world. But this movie pulled away from the racial issues, instead going on about whether it’s “real” love. In the end, Tauriel and Kili’s relationship isn’t about race: it’s about death.
Tauriel and Kili were not in love with each other. They were in love with the idea of each other. To Tauriel, Kili was someone removed from the confined and prejudiced world she had spent her life in. He could speak of wonders she had never seen, and he represented escape from a dying culture. To Kili, Tauriel was beauty “walking in starlight,” a representation of an ancient culture he was forever excluded from. These people had two short conversations. They did not walk through fire together, or fight side by side. They just didn’t know each other.
Only in death could this love become something “real.” By dying for Tauriel, by breaking her heart, the love was elevated. Tauriel and Kili could never have gotten married and had little mixed-race babies. Both were too embedded in their cultures to give everything up for the other (as evidenced by the lakeside conversation). Yet, when Kili died for her, he forever preserved himself in her mind. The individual was no longer important, only the representation and the final act of love.
If Tauriel had killed Bolg in vengeance, it would have taken Legolas’s hero moment away—but I still wish the writers had made that decision instead. And I don’t think the inclusion of the love story is in itself a problem: it’s the way it took over Tauriel’s plot. Legolas and Kili both had more plot; Tauriel had nothing but romance, a plot streamlined to exclude racial politics and warrior natures. She’s a warrior who almost never fights, in the middle of a war film! In The Desolation of Smaug, she was cooler than Legolas. But in The Battle of the Five Armies, she’s not cooler than anybody.