Somewhere Errol Flynn and Kevin Costner are rolling over in their graves. That is if Kevin Costner were dead which I don't think he is as of this writing. The great Ridley Scott, and I think we all can agree that the septuagenarian director has done enough to earn the prefix of 'great' to be placed before his name, has decided to tackle the legend of Robin Hood 'Gladiator' style, 'Batman Begins' style, and man is it a downer. I mean it's a good movie in the sense that is just about technically perfect, loaded with Academy Award winning actors doing what they are supposed to do, epic in scale, the score soars, the buckles swash and all that stuff... but 'Robin Hood' just isn't an awful lot of fun.
When we first pay visit to Robin Longstride (Russel Crowe) he is just a lowly archer in the army of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) as they crusade and burn their way back to England so Richard can get back on the throne and do some proper ruling. Tragically King Richard will perish during a particularly fierce battle, not that it mattered anyway since a conspiracy was afoot back home to kill the king as he returned home, planned by the incredibly scurrilous Lord Godfrey (Mark Strong), who has hatched a nefarious plan for England to become a French state.
In fact Robin actually crosses paths with Godfrey while Godfrey was murdering some British soldiers charged with returning the King's battle crown back to the palace. Godfrey would flee. Get used to that because it's a common theme. One of these dying soldiers would be Sir Robin Loxley who begs our Robin, with his dying breaths, to return his cherished sword back to his old man (Max Von Sydow).
Robin does just this thing, that is after he and his future merry men charade themselves as knights and return the crown back to the Queen, and then its off to Nottingham to meet old man Loxley and the newly widowed maid Marion (Cate Blanchette).
But there is trouble in the land my friends. With Richard's death the crown has fallen to his terribly unworthy younger brother John (Oscar Isaac), who has foolishly named the traitorous Godfrey his equivalent of the Secretary of State. Godfrey's first order of business in his new role is taxing the bejeebus out of the good people of Britain, in hopes that they rise up against their idiot king, thus allowing his plan of a French invasion to run the country over. The plan probably would've worked too but the NEW Sir Robin Loxley, it's kind of complicated, was a factor that Godfrey did not include into his equation. Godfrey will flee, Robin will pursue and all of England will follow Robin wherever he goes. That's a problem by the way, and Robin of the Hood will be born.
I'm sitting around at lunch one day with some cats from the job and the question of 'what's your favorite movie' comes up. One of my colleagues weighs in with 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves'. I know, right? But while Kevin Costner might've been a stretch as an English nobleman, and Bryan Adams scratching out classic theme ballads was a challenge, nonetheless that movie was an awful lot of fun. I even remember buying a couple of boxes of 'Prince of Thieves' breakfast cereal for goodness sakes. Somehow I don't anticipate seeing Russel Crowe's weathered and bloodied face on a box of breakfast cereal in relation to this version of 'Robin Hood' anytime soon. But the fact that team Ridley Scott chose to go in a different direction with Robin Hood isn't a criticism at all and in fact it's appreciated that in this time of remakes and rehashes that we have a remake of sorts that at least tries to do something different with what we are familiar with. Besides I've seen my main man Russel Crowe do Romantic Comedies and its not his strong suit. Not at all.
Clearly with Ridley Scott behind the camera the spectacle of it all makes this movie worth seeing. The fight sequences are large, sprawling and grand. The performance by all are very good, though asking Russel Crowe to be a subversive badass, Cate Blanchette to be a head strong maiden and Mark Strong to play the part of sneaky bad guy isn't asking these fine actors to do anything they haven't done in the last fifteen or so movies we've seen them in. The narrative is also much larger and far more sweeping and important than simply Robin stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, and despite the fact that Robin Hood isn't a real person, just like Rocky isn't real, it still felt historically important. Even though it isn't.
Note that we don't mention the merry men all that much or Friar Tuck because they don't play much of a part in this story, but they are here. Same for the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew MacFadyen) who was but an afterthought in this film, but this movie plays itself out like there may be sequel or two down the line which... I don't know.... might not be all that great an idea.
You see while this movie was huge and sprawling and epic and all of that, spending time with this Robin and this Marion just wasn't all that much fun to do. Kevin Durand looked like he might be cool to hang out with as Little John, but he had all of five lines in this movie. And while I'm mighty pleased to have seen this movie and mighty pleased to see these filmmakers take an alternate route with the story, this isn't a movie I'd want to see again and this is also the kind of movie that is filled with characters whose lives I'm not all that excited to see continue on screen. If the story ended here, I'd be fine with that.
Now if Kevin, Morgan and Mary Elizabeth could convince Bryan Adams to scratch out another ballad to see what Nottingham is like in that universe 20 years later I wouldn't mind seeing that. Recognizing that this Robin Hood is better in practically every conceivable way than 1991's Robin Hood. But apparently we were a lot less angry and pissed off in 1991.