I’ve been playing a lot of Shadow of War lately, and like in Shadow of Mordor before it, Gollum just goes through the motions. He menaces, he cowers, he tries to bash somebody’s head in with a rock. Then he says something zany and bounds away. Gollum has become the Jar-Jar Binks of Middle-Earth.
I’m not even joking about the rock thing. It’s one of the first things sentient stick-up-a-human-asshole Talion talks about when he’s reunited with everyone’s favourite artist’s rendition of what Skrillex will look like in 600 years. Oh that Gollum, when’s he gonna do one of his endearing heel turns? When’s he gonna pull off his single, solitary, painfully predictable trick? It’s a MYSTERY TO ALL OF US.
Don’t get me wrong: the hunched, seething bag of bile and bones did not always suck. In the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings books and movies, Gollum served as a fascinating foil to the hobbit heroes, a glimpse into a future that hung around Frodo’s neck like a lodestone, dragging him ever closer to the soil’s cold embrace. Gollum’s struggle for redemption, too, made for a tension-ridden tug-of-war between his personalities, one cut tragically short by rash actions on Sam’s part. Or perhaps Gollum was always beyond redemption, a tormented and abused creature who couldn’t stop his own transformation into monstrosity? It’s open to interpretation. Anyway, he eventually fell into a volcano, or, according to J.R.R. Tolkien himself, was pushed into a volcano by god. Either way, he died. End of story.
That, friends, is ALL we ever needed to see of him. Part-character, part-plot device for a set of very specific characters, he fulfilled his purpose. And yet, everybody who dabbles in the increasingly loose and implausible series of events that constitutes the Lord of the Rings movie canon keeps digging him out of his well-earned grave to be a glorified mascot. As a result, he’s gone from a believably tragic figure to a parody of himself, a loincloth-clad vessel for a procession of voice actors’ soulless Andy Serkis impressions.
It’s not like they have much to work with. Gollum’s arc is set in stone, and outside of it, he’s thin to the point of basically not even being a character. Without Frodo, Sam, and other characters he’s meant to play off of, he’s reduced to rehashing his greatest hits, but with a fraction of the impact or meaning behind them. It’s hard not to wonder why he’s even there beyond the fact that he’s not tied to any movie star’s actual likeness, making him a recognisable face companies can slap on a box without having to fork over Viggo Mortensen money.
Don’t think about that, though. Gollum just said “precious!” You remember “precious” don’t you? You know, from that period of about three months in 2003 when everyone was quoting it? Because what every modern video game needs is a warmed-over meme from back when George W. Bush was still President.