Here’s what you must contend with if you choose to suffer the prolonged agony of Robin Hood: Foremost, there are so many middle-aged, sword-wielding white men with beards that it takes a full half hour to separate the participants. Second, this Robin Hood has nary a sense of humor; a glum, self-indulgent two-and-a-half hour epic mish-mash warrants at least a few scenes of reprieve. No such luck in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, which shares that in common with its lead. What happened to the Merry in the Merry fucking Men?
Third, why doesn’t Russell Crowe — a good but often miscast actor — just give in to his public perception and play the villain more often? How much better would he be as a villain instead of a sulking, withdrawn, dour, overweight, self-serious, narcissistic hero? (He’d have been much better as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the original conception of this movie.) Fourth, you’re going to have to do some serious suspension of disbelief because this Robin Hood is a bombastic origins story and Russell Crowe is a 45-year-old man, which is late in the game to begin the tale of a legend, particularly when the average lifespan for a male in the 13th century was 33 years old.
Finally, and perhaps most disconcerting, is that this Robin Hood shares little in common with the Robin Hood with which most of us are familiar. There’s only a passing nod to the “steal from the rich, given to the poor” legacy of the character. In fact, Ridley Scott’s origins story renders much of Prince of Thieves moot. It’s fair, I suppose, to screw with our contemporary perception of Robin Hood since he is a fictional character with no real source material. He’s a product of folklore, which means that Scott — and screenwriter Brian Helgeland — could play fast and loose with the storyline. The result is something almost akin to Robin Hood meets Forrest Gump. This Robin Hood has his hand in a lot of other storylines: There’s a little King Arthur, some Braveheart, a generic back story to the back story, a bit of Joan of Arc, a dash of Saving Private Ryan and even a touch of The Proposal slipped in (I guess you need to cover all your demographic bases). In fact, in this version of events, Robin Hood very nearly compelled King John to sign the Magna Carta, fought against the Muslims in the Crusades, and faced off against the French forces of King Phillip, on a beach no less. Because, why not? And we won’t even begin to get into the liberties that Ridley Scott took with English history.
And what of the Sheriff of Nottingham? He’s in there, too. He’s given three inconsequential scenes (and Matthew Macfadyen, who plays him, is given a very bad beard), while even the Merry Men are pushed into the background, which is something of a shame because Little John (Kevin Durand) and Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes) are the only characters in the film I could work up any interest in. The focus, instead, is shifted entirely too much upon Cate Blanchett’s Lady Marion, who is not a dainty maid as some versions of the story tell it, but an older widow. In fact, in Ridley Scott’s version Robin Hood steps in and poses as Marion’s husband, hence the echoes of The Proposal.
But let’s back up, shall we? Russell Crowe stars as Robin Hood, a solider in King Richard’s Crusades who, after proving his honesty and bravery, is shackled along with Will Scarlett and Little John. They escape, however, after Richard the Lionehearted is killed during battle.
Meanwhile, the duplicitous Godfrey (Mark Strong), King John’s closest ally and childhood friend, is in cahoots with the French king, Phillip. Godfrey’s master plan is to turn the nation’s citizenry against the douchebagian King John by levying exorbitant taxes and burning down the villages which refuse — or can’t — pay. Once the citizens’ loyalty to the King is weakened, the plan is for Phillip of France to swoop in and takeover England.
How does Robin Hood play into all of this? After Richard is killed, Robin Hood — who is actually a common bowman named Robin Longstride — comes into possession of two items: 1) The king’s crown, which he returns to John but not before making an enemy of Godfrey, and 2) the sword of a dying Robert Loxley of Nottingham, which Robin Hood promises to return to Robert’s father, Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow), who happens to also be Maid Marion’s father-in-law. Out of respect for Sir Loxely, Robin also agrees to pose as his son and Marion’s husband, so that Marion can maintain ownership of their 5,000 acres of land after Sir Walter passes away.
As convoluted as that sounds, it only covers the first half hour of the movie, and I streamlined it considerably. It only gets more complicated if you try to include the connection that Robin Hood’s father had to Sir Walter Loxley and the roles King Richard’s right-hand man, William Marshall (William Hurt), King John’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his wife, Isabella of Angoulême, played in the film, as well.
Needless to say, the unnecessary convolution does nothing to distract your attention away from the fact that little actually happens in Robin Hood. It’s a story-driven movie, with only a scant few action scenes, but that story is tediously boring, over-padded with too many filler scenes, and almost completely devoid of emotion. Worse still, once the action scenes finally do arrive, Ridley Scott transitions from moody close-ups and shots of still life into his brother, Tony, with a lot of shaky-cam, quick-cut, what-the-fuck-is-going-on action sequences, culminating in an anti-climax so profound you can almost feel a lifetime’s worth of discharged semen retreat back into your body.
It’s not a very fun sensation. Fittingly, Robin Hood is not a very fun movie.