I think it's safe to say that of all the classic stories the world has ever known, the one of Robin Hood is my third favorite behind Jesus and "Star Wars." I've read a few books about the man and, of course, seen and loved all the movies. Disney’s "Robin Hood" is my favorite animated film of all time that does not involve Buzz Lightyear. My relationship with my mother was severely strained in 1991 when I was informed I would not be allowed to see the "Prince of Thieves" version due to its rating. It took quite some time to get over this insult. Errol Flynn's version of the man is one of the few pre-1977 films that would make it on to my Top 100 List were I to take the time to make one. Even the absurdity of "Men in Tights" doesn't deter my love for the Robin Hood character. So it was with great anticipation that I greeted the opening of the latest installment of the legendary robber-of-the-rich.
Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood" starts us off in a different place than the traditional setting. Think of this is as a prequel to the story you already know. Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe), an archer in the king's army, is Crusading his was back to England when Richard the Lionheart is killed in battle. Seizing an opportunity to increase their fortunes, Robin and his men assume the identities of a group of knights, including Robert Loxley. Upon returning home, Robin finds the country in chaos. The new king, John (Oscar Isaac), rules with an incompetent iron fist, the people are taxed behind reasonable measure, and a rogue knight, Godfrey (Mark Strong), is in collusion with the French in a bid to stake his own claim to the throne. Robin and his men attempt to live a semi-peaceful life (with the occasional grain-heist thrown in to keep it interesting) as he fulfills the wishes of Robert's father Walter (Max von Sydow), taking up his dead son's place next to Marion (Cate Blanchett). Meanwhile, Godfrey is running amok through the countryside under the guise of collecting taxes for King John, bringing the nation ever closer to a full on French invasion.
To be fair, “Robin Hood” really isn’t a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. It has some extremely strong moments and excellent battle scenes. It also displays some good ideas that could/should lead to a solid follow-up in the next installment and if nothing else it didn’t turn off from the franchise altogether. With that said, this isn’t what I’d necessarily call a good movie, either. The truth is, “Robin Hood” is just remarkably average. That might be acceptable for a run-of-the-mill-Summer-action-movie but not for a Scott-Crowe production with a 237 million dollar budget. Scott has developed a reputation for himself as a great filmmaker and the only problem with that is expectations are sky high for every single film, ESPECIALLY when you take on an iconic story like “Robin Hood.” It doesn’t feel like Scott ever really puts his stamp on this film. Likewise, Crowe very rarely makes a poor or even average film these days and I expect more from him because of that. Here he drifts from scene to scene and doesn’t feel completely invested. In all honesty, though, the problem with “Robin Hood” isn’t the direction or the performances. The problem is the script.
Brian Helgeland’s script, for lack of a better term, sucks. From beginning to end this movie finds its way into every pitfall you could possibly fall into in an action epic. To a man, the characters are weak and poorly developed. There is not a single moment of inspired or significant dialogue. The action sequences are solid but sprinkled in sparsely, leading to more than a few moments of boredom. I am all for a long run time and I’m not opposed to an action movie that doesn’t run straight from one piece of action to the next. In other words, I don’t need Michael Bay’s brand of action to have a good time. But if you are going the route of a longer, slower action piece, the rest of the script better be gangbusters and this one just isn’t. The biggest issue is there are way too many moving parts and not enough development of any of them. Somewhere between three and five villains take their turns being the alpha baddie and none of them are so strong as to demand any kind of respect, either from the heroes or the audience. With so many supporting actors who have “face value,” it feels like Helgeland tries too hard to get them all screen time and lines. Mark Strong is especially underused, though Cate Blanchett also gets the “could have been anyone” treatment. The result is a cluttered story line that doesn’t allow any one part to shine. In addition, “Hood” is full of clichés, rendering it not only a bit of a mess but an unoriginal mess to boot.
All told, “Robin Hood” is not a lost cause and, despite the unabashed setup, I’ve still got some excitement left in me for the franchise as a whole. It’s possible, however, that my love for this story and this character are overriding my actual feelings toward this film on its own. There are some gaping holes here that left my pining a bit for a giant rooster with a guitar or even (call me crazy) a Muslimed-up Morgan Freeman. And maybe that’s part of the problem: when you take on a story that brings forth so many fond memories for so many people, you better be able to deliver an outstanding, fresh take. In the wake of the success of the Christopher Nolan “Batman” series, J.J. Abrams “Star Trek,” and several other retellings that have taken the screen of late, the audience expects more and “Robin Hood” just doesn’t deliver.
Cate Blanchett looks ridiculous with a sword,