I can’t say that I think Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is a good movie, but it is better than I expected in some ways—especially if you don’t approach it as a Robin Hood movie. Scott’s film is many things, but a Robin Hood picture in the classic sense of the term it ain’t. The movie attempts to show the origins of Robin Hood—in other words, this is Mr. Hood’s backstory—and to do so in an earthy and realistic manner. This immediately raises the question of whether or not there’s a great desire for an earthy and realistic Robin Hood.
The truth is that Scott and company are largely just cashing in on a recognizable brand name. What they’ve given us feels more like a somewhat bloated, generic ancient-times battle picture—with notions of profundity and a dose of modern superhero thrown in. I don’t particularly blame Scott for going for the recognizable—not after Kingdom of Heaven (2005), A Good Year (2006) and Body of Lies (2008) all tanked. Even his most successful film in recent years—American Gangster (2007)—underperformed when you compare budgets to grosses. Scott needs a solid hit and, for that matter, Crowe could also stand one. Whether Robin Hood is that hit remains to be seen.
If you take the film on its own merits, it’s solidly OK. There’s been no skimping on the cast, which is pretty much made of A-listers of some note. Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Danny Huston (in a beguiling Shirley Temple wig), Eileen Atkins and Mark Addy (who better to be Friar Tuck?) are all on the high side of respected performers—and rightly so. They’re good here, even if they somewhat miss the mark of greatness, which is not entirely their fault. Danny Huston as Richard the Lionheart has too little to do. Mark Strong—who is on his way to being the essential bad guy of our age—is fine, but he hasn’t the meatiest role of his career. The weak link in all this is Oscar Isaac (Body of Lies) as Prince/King John. His performance is all in one key: petulant, spoiled-brat villainy. Brian Helgeland’s lumbering screenplay is partly to blame, but Isaac really can’t hold the screen against the others.
In this film, Robin Hood has been rethought, remonkeyed and generally re-everythinged. There’s nary a trace of green hat or green tights or indeed any vestige of green drag of any kind. This is a new Robin for our frankly more drab age. Hell, he’s not even Robin of Locksley (or Loxley as the film has it, which has the downside of looking like he belongs on a bagel). No, he’s Robin Longstride (apparently he has an impressive inseam), but he masquerades as Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge, Vanity Fair) for reasons at first self-serving and later more noble.
Thanks to a drawn-out death scene, before Sir Robert hands in his dinner pail to some nasty Frenchmen and the duplicitous Godfrey (Strong), he is able to entreat Robin to take his sword home to England and his father Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow). Naturally, Robin agrees, because otherwise there would be no film, and the sword is important to the movie’s notion of Robin Hood. The legend on the sword seems familiar to Robin, and ere long, memories of childhood and (wait for it) daddy issues are brought into play. Why, this isn’t Robin Hood, it’s the angsty modern superhero. It’s Robin Hood as a 12th-century Batman. Did we really need this?
The bulk of the movie—and there’s a lot of bulk—has to do with keeping Godfrey from dividing English loyalty, which would allow the nasty Frenchmen to invade (we keep being assured the Frenchmen are nasty, even if they sound like guards from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)). When this isn’t happening, Lady Marion Loxley (Blanchett) and Robin are trading barbs on the path to the inevitable romance. The film moves along well enough, but it just isn’t especially compelling or exciting. It’s adequate, it has good actors, and it’s not painful to sit through, but that’s about the best I can say. I’m not sorry I saw it, but I can’t help but wonder why it takes this movie more than two hours to draw a character earlier film versions of Robin Hood managed to create in their opening scenes. Rated PG-13 for violence, including intense sequences of warfare, and some sexual content.