I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Robin Hood the latest telling of the fabled defender of the poor. On one hand, it is a nice change of pace to see the legendary archer bloodied and dirtied — no finely penciled mustaches or tailored suits (ala Errol Flynn). On the other hand, is a grimied Robin a necessity? Isn’t he supposed to be the revered character that rose above the filth, championing the cause of righteousness?
Well, master director of the epic story, Ridley Scott, believes it to be a necessary evil. It’s no surprise, either, that he would count on his actor of choice, Russell Crowe, to tackle the bigger than life role of Robin Hood — after all Robin Hood is really just another go round of Gladiator with a slightly different story arc. What Scott does that is interesting though, is he’s taken portions of the folklore we know and love and formed a prequel of sorts — a movie that explains, with creative liberties, the how and why of it all.
Robin, when we meet him, is a mercenary in King Richard The Lionheart’s army. During battle the king dies and realizing he isn’t going to get paid for his services Robin and few others slink away under the cover of darkness. He and the makings of his “Merry Men” — Little John (Kevin Durand ), Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), and Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) — then get sidetracked into returning a sword of a fallen comrade to his father Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow) in Nottingham.
In a head scratching turn written in by Brian Helgeland to tie into the legend, Robin, whose original last name is Longstride (why?), takes on the Loxley name and fills in the shoes of Sir Walter’s deceased son. Something about keeping the lineage alive so the Loxley lands won’t be taken is offered up as a reason, although I can’t figure out why the townspeople and Sherriff (Matthew Macfadyen) would suddenly forget what the real son looked like. Oh yeah, the charade comes with the benefit of having the lovely Maid Marion (Cate Blanchett) as a wife.
Anyways, the new king, King John, and his new advisor Godfrey, make friends with the French and begin demanding tribute and razing nearby towns. A call to arms is made and in CGI wonderment a big battle takes place. Shortly thereafter, Robin finds he’s become a wanted man and Robin Hood sets the stage for another movie.
A movie, however, that I’m not so sure I’d be interested in watching. If, for no more of a reason than, because the characters are all very forgettable.
Crowe does a good enough job (roles like this are usually a walk in the park for him), but Robin doesn’t jump off the screen — he’s nothing more than just another ragged soldier who happens to have more lines of dialogue than the rest. The role of Robin, even if this isn’t yet the Robin we know, should be larger than life — there is no spring to his step, no swash to his buckling to be found. And poor Maid Marion; what have they done to you? Written in as a woman’s rights activist with a sword and a sharp tongue, she has little to no endearing qualities — I can’t imagine her husband ever wanting to come home to her.
Thanks to plenty of battle scenes — some of significant length — and the lavish and realistic production design responsible for transporting the viewer back to 13th-century England, the 140-minute running time of Robin Hood doesn’t feel like its 140-minutes long. Ridley Scott overcomes the story flaws and still manages to deliver another historically inaccurate big battle movie. I can’t, however, help but wish the whole Robin Hood part of the equation was left out.