Published at: May 12, 2010, 8:44 a.m. CST by merrick
It baffled me why Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe would want to make yet another version of the Robin Hood mythos, but the few details that initially trickled out suggested they actually did have a new take on the subject. There was talk that the new film would be called NOTTINGHAM, that Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham would be played by the same actor, and that the Sheriff would be the good guy and Robin would be the bad guy. Whether or not all of these rumours came from the same draft or not, and regardless of whether you think they sound any good, at least there seemed to be a new and mostly-original way to tell the story.
Then all of that changed. All the new stuff was thrown out, and S-Crowe -- for I spent a long time then trying to decide on the best combination of their names -- chose to go with a pretty bog-standard version that would be called, simply and boringly, ROBIN HOOD. With the average BODY OF LIES, the okay AMERICAN GANGSTER, and the horrible A GOOD YEAR still fresh in my memory, I can't say this new ROBIN HOOD was exciting me much. But, I hoped before the screening, low expectations could be just what I need to enjoy it. As it turned out, low expectations were actually the perfect primer for this excessively long, overwrought, painfully serious movie.
What's astonishing is how boring this film is. I was worried it would be bad, but it did not occur to me that it would be so dull. It stems from this current trend of making everything appear as realistic as possible. This trend, incidentally, is one I am mostly in favour of. Making a world realistic makes its fantastical elements all the more extraordinary; sure, watching Bruce Wayne test out various iterations of his bat-mask may look on paper as if it's dulling the legend, but it makes me believe that the world is real, and that helps the fantasy. It's a good ambition to have. Unfortunately, the other side of that coin is films like KING ARTHUR and ROBIN HOOD, wherein they try to convince us that the history they are telling us is the true one behind the myth, yet instead of being more realistic, it just comes off as less interesting.
Why are they doing this? Robin Hood is not some legendary historical figure whose true story needs telling. He's a folklore legend, and a fun one at that, so where the hell is the fun? Why does every joke have to be some crude sex joke which, much like in KING ARTHUR, the writers seem to think is classier because it's told in a mild version of Ye Olde English. It's desperate stuff, and does the film no favours.
The film's most baffling moments comes in the middle, where it suddenly lurches into an anti-immigration polemic. In the midst of some well-intentioned but ultimately misplaced scenes regarding the Magna Carta: Draft One, the film suddenly appears to take on the message that "We should set aside our feuding, and join forces to stop foreigners coming to our land!". It's actually not the strangest political subtext in a big budget film this year (keep an eye out for my forthcoming PRINCE OF PERSIA review), but it does stick out awkwardly from the rest of the movie.
Then we come to Russell Crowe. Look, I don't hate Russell Crowe. I really don't. I adore LA CONFIDENTIAL and MASTER AND COMMANDER, and given he's a local boy made good, I really want to be in his corner... and okay, sure, I once said he'd given the worst leading performance by an A-list actor in the history of cinema... but I still want to like him. Nevertheless, there's something a bit off about his role in Robin Hood, where you don't so much feel like you're watching anything other than Rusty shooting a bow and arrow in earthy greens. But I will say something positive about him: as of ROBIN HOOD, Russell Crowe has now mastered every single UK accent! That right: all the British accents he didn't use in A GOOD YEAR are used in ROBIN HOOD. I think he starts off Scottish. Where he ends is anyone's guess.
Cate Blanchett maintains her dignity as Marion, and her character would have been the best thing about the film had it not entered into self-parody territory and had her suit up and head into battle. What? I mean, what?!? Is this how we're approaching female empowerment in the 21st century? We take classic tales like ALICE IN WONDERLAND and ROBIN HOOD, and then -- with absolutely no setup or foreshadowing -- stick the lead woman in some chain mail and send her into a battle that was invented so the film could have a third act? We'd already established Marion as a strong, realistic character. Why the fuck is she suddenly Joan of Arc? Anyone who isn't groaning or laughing at this point of the movie has a better tolerance than I do.
The film's finale drags it down even further. It's not the sub-par recreation of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN's beach storming, or the curiously unengaging battle sequence, but rather it's the ending. I'm going to head into spoiler territory now, so be warned: this is not the Robin Hood you're used to. Ridley Scott's ROBIN HOOD is meant to be the setup for the legend. Either they're planning to make a sequel, or -- and I believe this is more likely -- it's a standalone film that's meant to end with us saying "Ohhh, so that's how he got started!". It's like the cliffhanger is there to introduce a far superior film someone else made years earlier. (For another example of this, see THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL.)
Look, ROBIN HOOD is not sacred text. It's a canvas upon which any number of styles can be applied, be it the aging romance of ROBIN AND MARION, or the comedic switcheroo of the BBC's "Maid Marion and Her Merry Men". Sure, I was raised on the perfect 1938 Curtiz/Keighley/Flynn version, but I still love the Disney version and the Daffy Duck version, and I liked the Kevin Costner one. There's room for new versions of the tale, even if they are revisionist origin tales. But above all, they should be enjoyable, not boring, and that is why Ridley Scott's ROBIN HOOD fails.