Ridley Scott aimed to bring Robin Hood down to earth and in that straightforward respect he was successful. The problem is that he arguably brought Robin Hood CRASHING down to earth, jammed like a square peg in a round hole into a generic semi-epic of medieval warfare and political intrigue. Change the names of Robin, Little John, Marian, and the village of Nottingham and I'd pretty much have no idea that this screenplay was ever written with the intention of being a Robin Hood movie — even the villain, a French spy and marauder named Godfrey, is a brand new creation, with the Sheriff reduced to a piddling, zero-impact supporting character. It ends up feeling like a little bit of Robin Hood mythos accidentally leaked onto a print of Braveheart or Gladiator so they said to hell with it and decided to release it in theaters, albeit with the bloodshed dialed back to PG-13 levels.
That's not to imply that the movie is boring or devoid of action; there's plenty of battles, hundreds dead, and even a spot of comic relief in Little John and Friar Tuck. But when I think of Robin Hood the giant neon sign in my mind flashes the word ADVENTURE, and I would in no way, shape, or form ever describe Scott's Robin Hood as an adventure movie. A medieval war movie perhaps, but not an adventure movie. There's a little bit of travel, sure, but Robin spends at least half if not more of the runtime just chilling in Nottingham, flirting with Marian and tilling the soil. And, sorry to be unimaginative, but I wanna see Robin Hood getting chased, sneaking under the enemy's nose in disguise, picking up new companions on his journey, swashbuckling, and in general feeling like a rogue, none of which this Robin Hood does. It's a bizarrely dry interpretation of one of popular fiction's most infamous scoundrels.
Part of the problem is the badly miscast leads. There's fun to be had in Kevin Durand's Little John, Max von Sydow's Sir Walter Loxley, Sherlock Holmes and Kick-Ass's Mark Strong further cementing his villainous typecasting as Godfrey, and even a bit of scenery-chewing in Oscar Isaac's King John, but however many Academy Awards they may have between them I don't think that Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett were right for Robin and Marian. Fine actors, especially Blanchett, but they have virtually no personalities in this movie and no romantic chemistry whatsoever. Dryness emanates from them; I was worried they would near a spark and catch flame.
It's also kind of bizarre how the film purports to be the beginning of the legend, yet Robin Hood is played by an actor nearing fifty. Don't get me wrong; I'm not one of those morons who needs all my film leads to be whippersnappers — I'm the world's biggest enthusiast of 58-year-old Liam Neeson's newfound career as a pulpy action star — but both Crowe and Blanchett just look too damn old for these parts. I would have rather seen someone like, I don't know, Stardust's Charlie Cox as Robin Hood. Not as good an actor, no, but better for this role. I never thought I'd say this, but even Orlando Bloom would have been better.
As for what the film gets right, if you've seen Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven (which, by the way, in its director's cut form ties with Alien as the best film Scott's ever done) you know that Ridley Scott has a real talent for making these medieval epics look and feel just right. The sets, the costumes, the castles, the villages, the weaponry, the layer of Middle Ages dirt and grime on everything, it all looks great, especially bolstered by beautiful cinematography. I won't go so far as to say it makes you want to be there, but it's authentic and drawn with painterly skill, simply a nice movie to look at whatever near-fatal weaknesses may be found in the storytelling.
Still, I'd only recommend seeing this Robin Hood if you're really, really into medieval warfare and conflict. If not and you want some adventure then just watch Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves again. That's right, you big baby, you know you like it.
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