Legends. Mythology. Creative non-fiction. I love it all. So, the new Robin Hood movie? Of course I had to check it out. In preparation, I watched Kevin Reynolds’ 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It was an interesting experience as the movie was huge when I was in middle school, and I remember the music fondly (we played it in marching band). In 2010, it held pretty well, except for Kevin Costner’s awful hair and even worse, nonexistent British accent. Robin Hood sounds pretty nondescript American. Who knew? With a cast including Morgan Freeman (whom I love) and Christian Slater (can’t stand him) and Alan Rickman (brilliant), it was pretty entertaining. It was much more violent than I remembered or would have anticipated from a movie in the early 90s.
As far as the story goes, Robin of Locksley comes back from the Crusades, having escaped prison and saving Azeem (Morgan Freeman). His friend Peter is mortally injured in the escape and makes Robin promise to safeguard Lady Marian. Robin and Azeem return to England, where he butts heads with Guy of Gisbourne (Michael Wincott) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman). Training of peasants ensues, the Sheriff is dastardly and devious plotting with Mortiana to become king. As I said, entertaining.
Fast forward to 2010 and Ridley Scott’s version, Robin Hood,with the all-too-fitting tag line: The Untold Story Behind the Legend.” Now, color me picky…. but with Batman, I’m fascinated with how Bruce Wayne morphs into this avenging, brooding, complex creature. With Robin Hood, I just want to see some hoodwinks (excuse the sorry pun). Instead, what I saw was a very Gladiator-like** Russell Crowe fighting in battle, standing up to King Richard the Lion Heart, rebelling when his master’s morality is questioned, and fighting a bit more.
Robin Longstride, as he has been penned for the movie, is the son of a stone mason who fought for equality and was killed for it … in front of his own son. Flashbacks similar to Gladiator abound. As Longstride leaves King Richard dead on the battlefield – we are playing fast and loose with history here – he runs across the remains of an ambush in which the knight Locksley dies. In order to cross over to London, Robin and his not-so-merry men, take on the royal guard’s persona to pass safely. Robin promises the dying Locksley he will return his father’s sword to him at Nottingham. Robin does so, and the fabulous Max von Sydow plays a blind Locksley, asking Robin to stand in for his son, so that his daughter-in-law Marian does not lose her land. Don’t worry: there’s not a lot of sexual chemistry between the two. The sheriff is wholly unmemorable but not for his performance as much as lack of story line. This particularly saddens me as the sheriff is played by Matthew Macfayden. Even with such a large cast of characters, though, the plot was fairly simple and easy to follow. As Jonathan Kiefer of the film blog, The Faster Times, quips: It gives clues, telling us, “Pay attention to that guy, whose name will ring a bell,” or “Don’t trust this guy; he’s very bald, and he speaks French.”
For a film that sounds as though it should have such depths of emotion, for me, it lacked heart. It lacked the spirit of Robin Hood I was waiting to see played out in front of me. It lacked the fun. I guess they were going for a recessionist, depressing feel: TAXATION! TAXATION! NO TAXATION! NO TAXATION! And, of course, Robin Longstride throws in this line: An Englishman’s home IS his castle!
I think that they tried to play the Robin-Hood-as-real-man-Robin-Longstride angle too much. Robin Hood is made up. He’s a legend. Why? Because he brought hope and comfort and mischief and delight to a people oppressed. That’s what I was going in to see. As one commenter on Jeffrey Overstreet’s blog Looking Closer says, this movie is the” Totally Made-Up Story That We Produced Hoping to make Millions and Millions of Dollars, to Heck with the Legend.”
Although the battle scenes were beautiful, and there were some nice camera angles and shots, overall, I was disappointed when the credits rolled. (Which, by the way, were very inventive and aesthetically pleasing.) I wanted to see what happened once Robin Hood is named an outlaw and tyrannical King John denies the people the signing of what seems to be the Magna Carta, which he actually goes on to sign in 1215.
Although fun in terms of an action movie, I didn’t leave the theatre with a sense of satisfaction or Yea! The bad guys always lose when Robin of the Hood is around! sort of feeling. I’m all for the examination of the psychological depth and background of characters, but here, Ridley Scott, I wanted some fun and vengeance. I got neither.
** There are several memorable moments when the slow-mo camera action zooms in on Russell Crowe’s face as he bellows: NOOOOOO!!!! I literally laughed out loud. I couldn’t help it.