Do we really need another Robin Hood in the movies? From the high points of Errol Flynn and Sean Connery to the low point of Kevin Costner – Robin Hood as surfer dude – I think we’ve had quite enough already. But never underestimate Hollywood’s penchant for revisionism – i.e., the recycling of old goods into new money. The revisitionist bug has claimed Superman and Batman, so I guess Robin Hood was inevitable. So let me put this another way: Do we really need a revisionist Robin Hood?
After seeing Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood,” starring Russell Crowe, I would unhesitantly answer that question in the negative. I much prefer Mel Brooks’s “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” to all this doomy somberness. Why take the legend so seriously?
It would be different, I suppose, if Scott and his screenwriter Brian Helgeland were trying for some kind of grand-scale epic à la “Lawrence of Arabia.” That wasn’t merely an epic-sized film – it was an epic of ideas. There are no big ideas knocking around in “Robin Hood,” no vision beyond the rudimentary: Life was really really grim way back in AD 1199.
I’ll say this much for Scott. He doesn’t make it look as if the Brits back then, not to mention the invading French, belonged to a dental plan. One of my big complaints about historical movies is that people are always sporting Pepsodent smiles. Not in “Robin Hood.” The not-so Merry Men, in particular, look as if they could use some instruction in flossing.
In Scott’s version of the Robin Hood legend, Robin Longstride is a Briton serving with King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) during the interminable Crusades. Fighting his way like a Zen archer through France on his return from the Holy Land, he ends up in possession of the killed king’s crown and passes himself off as Sir Robert Loxley, Nottingham’s knight of the realm, to Richard’s snivelling successor King John (Oscar Isaac). He then ventures to Nottingham to present the sword of the actual Robert Loxley, slain in battle, to Loxley’s infirm father, Sir Walter (a too-good-for-this-movie Max von Sydow), who, though blind, discerns that Robin would be an excellent match for Robert’s flinty widow, Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett).
Since we know that Robin and Marion are destined for the ages, not to mention the fine movie starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn, the slow-burn buildup that Scott gives these incipient lovebirds strikes me as being way too coy. (He asks her to help remove his chain mail). Not to mention drab. This must be the first sort-of romance in movie history in which neither participant ever cracks a wide smile. Scott makes the mistake of equating seriousness with humorlessness, and his actors follow suit. Crowe has never been big on levity but his smoldering blahness here makes his gladiator in Scott’s (overrated) “Gladiator” seem like Jiminy Cricket. Blanchett is strong, as always, but the role itself is misconceived. No doubt to avoid the usual damsel-in-distress clichés endemic to the genre, she and Scott overcorrect by turning Marion into a cross between Gloria Steinem and Lara Croft.
If all you are looking for from this movie is a medieval smackdown between Brits and Frenchies, you won’t leave feeling famished. But for anything more than that, for a trace of poetry or grace or romance, you’ll probably feel the way Richard the Lionheart did when last we see him – i.e., dead. We never even get to see Robin steal from the rich and give to the poor. That’s because the film is a prequel in search of a sequel. With any luck, we won’t get one. Grade: C- (Rated PG-13 for violence including intense sequences of warfare and some sexual content.)
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