Robin Hood and Little John walkin’ through the forest … oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally, golly what a bore!
A great deal of nostalgia will be felt for Disney’s cartoon version of Robin Hood after seeing Ridley Scott’s overblown take on it. It’s also going to make you nostalgic for the two and a half hours you wasted in the theater.
Robin Hood is the age-old story of the outlaw and his band of merry men who rob from the rich and give to the poor. An important point of clarification for Scott’s version: This is an origins story, focusing on how Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) came to dwell in the woods with the lovely Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett), rather than what happens once he gets to the hood. It’s like finding out how Anakin became Darth Vader and, like the Star Wars backstory, it’s not very good. Mired down by countless battles, gallons of spilled blood, treason, royal troubles, adultery and general mayhem, it’s an epic story that fails. Epically.
When first met, Robin wields an arrow for King Richard. But as soon as the king dies in battle, Robin and his fellow travelers hightail it back to England to beat the rush. Through a strange twist of fate, they end up in possession of the actual crown and must ferry it back to London while traveling under the identities of slain knights. Bound by a promise made to one of the aforementioned knights, Robin travels to the man’s hometown, Nottingham, where he wins over the grieving father and widow, and with their blessing, retains the man’s identity. It’s complicated and far-fetched — and we haven’t even gotten to the repressed memories, let alone the coincidence that the dead knight’s father just happens to hold the key to Robin’s true past. That whole travesty of a plot comes much later.
At this point in the film it’s just confusing tracking who is in which country, and who is allied with whom. Don’t think that all the location identifiers that continually flash across the screen are going to help you either.
There’s great irony that the film was delayed because of the writers’ strike several years ago, because they might have been better off without them. The story, created by Brian Helgeland, Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, is a complete mess. And the script penned by Helgeland is filled with overly wrought dialogue interspersed with penis and sex jokes. It’s more unbalanced than a wobbling Weeble. Speeches delivered from horseback are less than inspiring, and did I mention the part about repressed childhood memories?
Despite driving a vehicle that threatens to break down every two minutes, Crowe and Blanchett rise to the challenge. Crowe certainly has enough charisma and a husky growl to imbue Robin with the animal magnetism needed to both lead men and run through the forest with a bow and arrow. But when he can’t even make the role captivating while wearing leather pants, you know there’s a bigger problem at play. For her part, Blanchett is obviously giving her all to a role that doesn’t give her much to work with. Marion is unwilling to conform to society’s restraints on women, but even so she quickly collapses into a tired cliché that no amount of well-delivered lines can overcome.
There’s actually a strong supporting cast who manage to keep the film from completely dying on the battlefield, including William Hurt, Lost‘s Kevin Durand, and the go-to evil villain these days, Mark Strong (Kick-Ass, Sherlock Holmes). But surprisingly, it’s the bevy of extras who are even more noticeable. In a film with hundreds, if not thousands, of extras as soldiers and villagers, they are horribly distracting and awkward. But rather than blame them for their clumsy fighting and domineering presence, it just demonstrates that Scott’s direction is lackluster and (Dare I say it?) lazy. The whole project feels like a cheap knock-off of Lord of the Rings, from nearly identical scenes, camera perspectives, and even actors. It’s neither fresh nor gritty. It’s just regurgitated material with only minimal investment in its quality or interest.
And that’s the crux of the film’s problem. Even with all the big battles, flying arrows and spurting blood, it’s just boring. Scott forgets that a period piece needs more than men in chain mail riding horses. It needs a hero. Robin Hood is definitely not that person, even if he robs from the rich and gives to the poor. With this Robin Hood, the only people really getting robbed are those buying the tickets.