In the wake of the superhero trend, we have “Robin Hood”, the original caped crusader, showing privileged England what a little financial reallocation can do for the peasants. Sure, I fell in love with the campy “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” starring Kevin Costner and Alan Rickman, but this isn’t the story of a vigilante with a vendetta against the man. This is the untold origin story of how that outlaw came to be.
Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is just an average archer in King Richard’s army. But after the death of the Lionheart during battle in France, Robin and his merry men – Little John (Kevin Durand), Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), and Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) – find safe passage back to England—and Robin takes on the identity of Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge) to ensure their safety. Upon arrival in England, Robin returns Sir Robert’s sword to his father, Sir Walter (Max von Sydow), who asks him to impersonate his son, so Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett) and Loxley’s workers won’t find themselves homeless after his death. A little confusing and rather contrived? Yes, a little bit. So Robin finds momentary peace in this life, but the country remains in peril under the rule of Richard’s evil brother, King John (Oscar Isaac), whose henchman, Godfrey (Mark Strong), is secretly working with France to bring down the nation.
All the pieces are in place for “Robin Hood” to become a franchise. The latest adaptation of the classic hero finds a back-story rather than the usual Robin vs. the Sherriff of Nottingham scenario (who remains in the background). This is the story about how Robin became a war hero prior to his life of robbing the rich to feed the poor. It’s an excuse to create a Feudal European war movie and rewrite history.
Say goodbye to Robin as a fox, Mr. Waterworld, or his current BBC television take; meet Russell Crowe, showing us how to a wield a bow, sword, and catchy rhetoric to inspire a crowd. Coming off several roles as a desk worker, Crowe’s back in shape and ready to show off his chiseled physique, redirecting that male gaze for the sake of the very, very few females who probably viewed this dude film.
“Robin Hood” is basically “Gladiator” in the 12th Century — the reincarnation of Roman General Maximus, ready to win over the hearts of the people and take down his second tyranny for the sake of democracy. But instead of telling the story of a respected warrior-turned-outcast who must prove himself to the people, “Robin Hood” shows us why the country loves our hero and how he became a criminal. I’m sure the heists and feeding of the poor will come in part two.
Connecting the dots is a bit of a challenge: a regime change, Robin’s new life, learning about his past, Tuck and the gang trying to fit in, a French invasion, a mild love story, William Hurt as William Marshal trying to expose a conspiracy, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen) making saucy comments, and a bunch of orphans stealing from the Loxely pad — and it all ends in a beachside battle. It’s clear where the film wants to go (Robin Hood becoming an outlaw) but the road there is really something else. I can almost hear the screenwriters fleshing out the plot and subplots: “OK, so we want to do a Robin Hood film but I really wanted to have an epic war as the climax. I realize that doesn’t make sense in a Robin Hood film, but we’ll make it work.” They’re half right.
Like “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”, “Robin Hood” bites off so much and gives us back narrative drivel that, while action packed and entertaining, leaves little nourishment for the mind. By the end, the story becomes so convoluted that it’s hard to understand how everyone got to the same location: coincidence, destiny, logic? However, there’s little else to expect from a Ridley Scott film. A master of such iconic works as “Alien” and “Blade Runner”, it seems like the cinema big wig is just bored. The value of his latest film doesn’t lie in the plotline but what could come next, setting up great characters who hopefully will do more in the sequels.
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