May 14, 2010

No Tights This Time

Now that the first BIG movie of the summer has reared its money guzzling head, we've entered the area of the season that I like to refer to as, "The Almost Dead Zone". For the next few weeks while we wait for the next BIG one to open, we are treated to slew of semi-big movies that were released at this time just so the studios could brag that they released a summer blockbuster. While we wait for Toy Story 3, we have to contend with MacGruber, Sex and the City 2, Prince of Persia, Get Him to the Greek, The A-Team, and The Karate Kid. However, before we get to those, we have to discuss the one that's leading this merry charge, Robin Hood (see what I did there?) After contending with the most deviously misleading marketing blitz ever, this Ridley Scott epic is here for our enjoyment. It boasts a sweeping story, a grand scale, and performances from two of the finest actors working today. What's the verdict? Eh...

Yes. It is as epic as it looks!

Before I get into plot details, I feel as if I must explain the weird process by which this film was made. Originally, it was going to be called Nottingham, told from the perspective of the Sheriff of Nottingham, and casting the legendary outlaw as the villain. Ridley Scott was brought on to direct, and Russell Crowe was cast as the Sheriff. I was totally on board with this idea. A fresh spin on the Robin Hood fable that saw the bad guy as the good guy? More please! However as Scott and Crowe began work, they realized that the original idea wouldn't work, for whatever reason. So they decided to go the experimental route, and have Crowe play both Nottingham and Hood. How this would play out, I have no idea. After working on that project for a little bit, the same consensus was reached, only this time Scott and Crowe simply scrapped the whole thing and started from scratch. What did we get? An origin story. Yes, out of such an inspired idea comes a tired result. It's not even a very good origin story. The plot sees Robin, an archer in the army of Richard the Lion Hearted, returning to England from the Crusades. He returns to find Richard's corrupt brother, John, in power, and the people in disarray and poverty. Sounds like business as usual, right? Wrong! There are bunch of subplots feeding into the overarching plot, which deals with an impending French invasion. None of them are very interesting. Some of them are actually quite absurd. And the script doesn't really give us the chance to comprehend them all. Let me break it down for you. Robin returns to England, goes to Nottingham, romances Marion, shoots some arrows, stands up in front of all the noble men of England, makes some impassioned speech, and, then, they all go the beach and have a fight. That's it. But, you wanna know what the biggest problem with Robin Hood is? It's not about Robin Hood. This is an origin story, but unlike most origin stories, this one waits until the last five minutes for John to declare him an OUTLAAAAWWW! Robin Hood doesn't become Robin Hood until that moment. Up till then, he could have easily been mistaken with any other self-righteous swordsmen from countless other movies. Picture this. If Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven had a deformed baby, it would be Robin Hood. 

Russell Crowe plays Robin. He's fine, I guess. No, I mean, he is good, but, this is more or less the exact same thing we saw him do in Gladiator. He even looks the same. If there is one big complaint to be lobbied at his performance, it's his accent. It's all over the place. Cate Blanchett plays Marion, the maiden who steals Robin's heart. Unlike most iterations, where Marion is of royal blood, this one sees her harking from decidedly more modest beginnings. Blanchett is very good, but some of the things she does are a little ridiculous. I didn't believe for a second that she would don a suit of armor and help Robin defeat the French, but, I guess that's more of a fault on the writers part. Oscar Issac is appropriately slimy and pathetic as Prince John, but, he's not the main villain. The main villain is Godfrey, played, of course, by Mark Strong. Strong is good here, but I'm getting tired of his schtick. We get it, Mark! You are very good a playing villains. Now, how bout you try something else for a change? Sound good? Excellent! There are only four of the "Merry Men" on display here, Little John, Will Scarlett, Allan A'Dayle, and Friar Tuck, played by Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle, and Mark Addy, respectively. They all do adequate jobs, but are only really used for action scenes. The biggest disappointment is Matthew Macfayden, who is completely wasted as the Sheriff of Nottingham! Performances here are what we expect. Some are very good, some are just ok. Nothing Oscar worthy, but certainly nothing Razzie worthy either. 

A somber bunch. 

Ridley Scott has crafted an exciting, well shot, but ultimately loose and dawdling epic. The movie really comes alive during the battle scenes, but we expect that from him. He gave us Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven; the man knows his way around medieval combat. On the other side of the spectrum, he is hamstrung by a weak script and a artistic direction towards realism. A lot of effort was made to make this an allegedly, historically accurate portrayal of the man Robin Hood might have been. As such, he is almost completely unrecognizable as the character. Unlike other versions, which saw Robin as fun loving, charismatic, but, at the same time, ruthless, cunning, and deadly, this Robin is morose, brooding, and bombastic. He barely cracks a smile through the entire 140 minute run time. I'm all for people putting a new spin on a beloved character, but Scott didn't just spin Robin Hood. He did a god damn tango with him! I'm wondering if Robin Hood didn't suffer the same fate as Kingdom of Heaven. I'm wondering if the version in theaters isn't the version Scott intended us to see, and, if we'll see a director's cut that is actually the real movie, like what happened with Kingdom of Heaven. I mean, they are practically the same film. Both deal with a man who rises from obscurity to lead an army to glorious victory. Both are set in same time period. Both have a sweeping scale that seeks to rival Lord of the Rings. I'm hoping this is the case. I would love to see what Scott really had in mind, if this is, indeed, not the version he wanted to unveil for us. 

Look, we all knew this wouldn't be the best onscreen Robin Hood. The best one is, and always will be, the Errol Flynn version from 1938. This new iteration seeks to put a fresh spin of the character, but all it succeeds in doing is reminding us that some icons can't and shouldn't be tampered with. They are perfect just the way they are. There are some thrilling action scenes, and the performances are decent enough. But, the plodding script and often absurd plot drag it down from the pedestal that everyone thought it would be resting on. I'm not saying don't see Robin Hood. By all means, go out and catch a showing of it. Just go in with reservations; it's not what's it being advertised as. These merry men have never been so unmerry. B-


  1. Thought Robin Hood was good, but not great. Love Ridley Scott, love Russell Crowe, but it definitely wasn't half as good as other Scott/Crowe work.

  2. Have you perchance seen the BBC TV show Robin Hood? It's amazing. Just saying. Also cancelled and a bit cheesy....but still amazing.

  3. @Cat: Just started watching it. Totally cheesy and weird, but I'm officially hooked! Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. You're very welcome. Cheesy as it is, the last two season finales both made me cry.