I’m going to get geeky here, and I’m going to get preachy. Your mileage may vary.
So first let’s all read this excellent The Mary Sue article regarding fanboy hatred of Tauriel, the first non-canonical character Peter Jackson has inserted into his Tolkien movies:
And now let’s talk about Tauriel.
Tauriel is fucking awesome. She is a fearless warrior a keen mind, and a woman who will resolutely NOT TAKE YOUR SHIT.
Much has made of the romantic “triangle” between Tauriel, Legolas and Kili, but let’s be clear about this: it’s not a triangle to anyone but Legolas. Tauriel has absolutely zero romantic interest in him. When Thranduil (Legolas’s crazy asshole of a dad and a new contender for King Dick of Tolkien Cinema) suggests that his son has feelings for her, the look on her face suggests no inner conflict. It suggests “Oh, shit, HIM?”
(By the way - Jackson’s camera stays with her reaction, making it, implicitly, a more relevant emotional note than Legolas’s desire or Thranduil’s machinations; Evangeline Lilly’s excellent performance is no small part of why the character works)
Tauriel, meanwhile, is WAY into Kili. He’s an underdog: funny, scruffily handsome, handy in battle. He allows himself to be vulnerable with her. He flirts, mutters poetry. She reciprocates and is obviously charmed (though not charmed enough to forget about kicking ass). We don’t even know if this is a romance yet, but if it is, it’s the most earthy, lusty one that has yet emerged in any Tolkien adaptation. Even if you think it’s a shame that the big female character just HAD to bring with her a romantic subplot, isn’t treating it that way kind of marvelous? Would you rather have another Arwen, a character whose life or death revolved around the man she loved? Can we not enjoy that here is a woman with a larger purpose who just HAPPENS to meet a fellow who catches her eye? Who would have died if not for HER?
Jackson, laudably, makes Tauriel’s feelings the center of this storyline. She’s not a prize to be won or a damsel in distress. She makes her choices, and the film doesn’t judge her for them.
BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY: Tauriel’s actions, unlike Arwen’s, are not motivated by her romantic desires. When she sets off with Legolas to defend Middle Earth against a growing threat, she’s not thinking “Well maybe this’ll give me a chance to get closer to that hunky dwarf.” She’s worried that if the elves remain isolationist and resist even the merest involvement in the larger Middle Earth struggle, they will be consigning millions to their deaths. And they will rot in their caves. That’s what’s on Tauriel’s mind. She’s thinking globally. And she’s hacking the fuck out of every marauding Orc who stands in her way.
Fantasy cinema needs more Tauriels. And if the way they appear is by forcing a modern understanding of gender onto a traditionally chauvinistic genre template, then so much the better. This is the 21st century. Today’s female fantasy fans deserve a Tauriel. They deserve a female character they can admire and emulate. What they DON’T deserve is to feel like they’re not invited to the party. They don’t deserve yet another Comic-Con where they’re treated like outcasts and jack-off bait.
Ever notice the names of Jackson’s eternal collaborators? The two names you see in the credits of every Jackson film as writers, producers, second-unit directors? Their names are Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. Without those women, you wouldn’t even have a huge, sumptuously appointed, better-than-you-deserve adaptation of Tolkien to complain about. And if you listen to their commentaries with Jackson, you’ll understand just how much they bring to the table, artistically and technically.
Middle Earth needs women like this. Not a White Council of little boys bitching about things not being just so.
Now if only they could do the same for POCs who are not rendered evil, nameless, and/or non-human