Robin Hood has been told and retold to death. Elements of
it are so familiar that I find myself remembering a fox
and/or Daffy Duck performing his derring-do instead of any
human actor. In essence, Director Ridley Scott and Writer
Brian Helgeland want to bring something new to the table
by giving us the prequel - asking what happened before everything
we know, and trying to root Robin Hood's legend in an actual
historical time period instead of a fanciful version of
an England that never really existed.
best intentions, Robin Hood fails to breathe new
life into either legend or franchise. Helgeland borrows
liberally from his earlier success, A Knight's Tale,
pasting an almost identical backstory onto Robin Longstride
nee Sir Robert Loxley (Russell Crowe) from Heath
Ledger's William Thatcher.
is no Ledger on the cusp of stardom and charisma. The veteran
Australian actor clearly has something compelling about
him, but it's dark and brooding. This Robin Hood - though
he never really gets called that here - seems more a thug
than a roguish outlaw.
with his companions from the Crusades, he has moments of
lightness. In a moment or two with Lady Marian (Cate Blanchett),
he has a bit of a softness to him. But those moments serve
as excuses for character development rather than really
earning it; when Marian declares her love, we've seen little
real reason for it other than once he was nice.
At least they
let Robin Hood remain an expert bowman. We see how his specialty
would have been used in the days of the Crusades as King
Richard (Danny Huston) and his men pillage their way back
to England. With Scott directing, the screen fills with
painstaking historical detail, blood, sweat and grime oozing
through the battle scenes. It also serves as a symbol of
the moral cancer eating away at these men, serving in a
Holy War and realizing there's nothing holy about it.
a modern perspective forced into the past. It will serve
to provoke the orphaned Longstride into developing a philosophy
wanting men to be free, echoing his near forgotten father
and foreshadowing the Magna Carta.
so Helgeland and Scott want to have it both ways. They present
a Prince John (Oscar Isaac) who seems genuinely conflicted
but morally lax, complex and willing to listen to reason
until it's inconvenient to the story for him to do so. While
the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew McFadyen) shows up and
is clearly the comedic menace of the legend, he's barely
more than a cameo and a tease of the fun the movie might
Though the concerns
over unfair taxes do bubble under the surface of Robin
Hood, this script ends up being more about political
intrigue as the French King Phillip plots with the nefarious
Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong) to embroil England in a Civil
War so the French can just invade and knock over the divided
forces. It's both simplistic and headsplittingly complicated.
And unfortunately, Strong gives almost exactly the same
performance as he did in Sherlock Holmes, only now
with facial scarring.
At least King
Phillip eats oysters instead of cheese. That gives things
a little more complexity.
With the center
being so uninvolving, it's a shame that so many good pieces
keep showing up and getting shoved to the side. Though never
called the Merry Men, Robin's companions hold the screen
whenever they're on it. Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes) and
Little John (Kevin Durand), in particular, keep bringing
an enthusiasm to their scenes that speed up the action,
with Mark Addy's beekeeping Friar Tuck struggling to add
a glimmer of mischievous fun that the main story completely
Max Von Sydow gives the whole thing weight as Loxley's blind
father, begging Longstride to keep up his ruse. There's
humor, there's gravity, and there's proof that old actors
do their damnedest to not go gently into that good night,
as his confrontation with Sir Godfrey may be one of the
most exciting scenes in the movie. When von Sydow raises
his sword, you wonder if he'd warmed up by clashing with
Peter O'Toole to get the role.
It all plods
toward an epic battle that would have been impressive if
it hadn't been done in Kingdom of Heaven. Never have
so many fought so fiercely to so little interesting result.
The legend may
have it coming, but what "it" is should be a romp through
a Sherwood Forest bright and verdant, fun and full of potential
adventure. Robin Hood hints that it could have gone
there quite handily, but decided that this still pond just
outside the forest would be just as interesting, promise,
really, if you'd only give it a chance.
All things considered,
I'd rather feel welcome to Sherwood.