“Have a car with my name – you will wear it out” – words spoken by Dame Judy Dench as Queen Elizabeth in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, but more aptly applied here in regards to how Hollywood treats Robin Hood, a name that holds a dear place in the hearts of movie-goers of all ages, and a name this latest embodiment might be wearing out. Whether they prefer Errol Flynn from THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), the Fox from Disney’s 1973 animated ROBIN HOOD, Kevin Costner from the 1991 ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, or even the dashing Cary Elwes of Mel Brook’s ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS (who could actually speak in an English accent), whenever a new incarnation comes out, Robin Hood’s fan base still expect playful light-hearted fare when it comes to dealing with this hero who robs from the rich to give to the poor. Ridley Scott should have had a better care with this name.
This latest ROBIN HOOD, with Russell Crowe as the titular hero, is gritty and rough, beginning right off the bat with the grueling battle sequences we saw at the beginning of GLADIATOR (a formula Scott apparently thought to go to in this case). Robin Hood is actually Robin Longstride, an archer in King Richard the Lionheart’s (Danny Huston) army, on their way home from the Crusades, sacking towns in France along the way. The king dies in battle, and Robin impersonates knights charged in returning his crown. This is a funny conceit, and more of these types of trickery would have been welcome. But instead Robin returns to Nottingham on a quest of honor, and meets a widow – not a maid – in Marion (Cate Blanchett), and her father, Sir Walter Locksley (Max von Sydow). The new king, King John (funny and whiny Oscar Isaac), meanwhile levies ridiculous taxes on the people to finance recovery after old King Richard’s crusades, and has a tyrannical tax man in Godfrey (Mark Strong continuing his streak of villainy) to pillage and punish those unable or unwilling to pay. Godfrey has ulterior motives thanks to an alliance with the King of France, and Robin has to unite the clans (BRAVEHEART-style) to hold up against a French invasion in the final climactic battle…also BRAVEHEART-style.
Russell Crowe starts off as a lowly archer who has no problems with stealing to make his way, but that’s only a taste of the thief that we know Robin Hood to be, and it’s only touched on once more before we delve too far into the storyline of international intrigue. William Hurt comes along to add gravitas to a role of a King’s aid in William Marshall, but we don’t watch Robin Hood movies for the politics. And the bits we do watch the movies for is only brushed by in this film. The romance between Marion and Robin happens all at once, and is poorly put together. Russell Crowe was closer to Max von Sydow’s character as a father than to Marion as a lover. And then she suits up for battle, which we saw in the previews so I give nothing away, but that totally comes out of left field in this picture. So I guess when Ridley Scott was putting together this soup of a movie he was putting in parts BRAVEHEART, parts GLADIATOR, and decided to put Cate Blanchett in armor again for a taste of ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE. Robin’s merry men have funny moments when they’re used (Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes) and Friar Tuck is his typical, jovial, drunken self (Mark Addy), but it almost seemed as if they were setting them up for more use in a sequel, which hopefully will never come.
Robin Hood is a charming and delightful character, and needs to be treated as such by those who attempt to tell his story. It is not a tale of hard, badass warriors with battle scenes that combine medieval battle with the opening scene from SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (another shortcoming of the final battle, I kept waiting to see Tom Hanks). I feel I will echo the sentiment of other Robin Hood fans when I say, I was disappointed. And we’re one step closer to wearing out the name of Robin Hood.