Movie Review: Robin Hood (PG-13)

Robin Hood Not Good

By Roxana Hadadi

The last time Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe collaborated was on the 2008 spy thriller “Body of Lies,” which despite mixed reviews was actually pretty awesome. And in 2000, the two created a modern classic with “Gladiator,” an epic that made more than $457 million and won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor. If you weren’t entertained, shame on you.

But if you go into “Robin Hood” hoping for a recreation of “Gladiator” set in England instead of Rome – after all, the trailer and commercial do hype up the connection to that Scott-Crowe flick quite a bit – you’ll be sorely disappointed. There’s basically nothing redeeming about “Robin Hood,” which is somehow heavy-handed and scantily developed at the same time, a mix of inexplicable plot twists that essentially ruin all the film’s promise. Disastrously long (two hours and 21 minutes!) and torturously clichéd, Scott and Crowe have a definite clunker on their hands. What a bummer.

Pretty much everyone knows the tale of Robin Hood, an iconic hero whose story has been adapted by Disney, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Wishbone,” to name a few: English guy who wielded a bow and arrow, stole from the rich and gave to the poor and was assisted by his love Marion and his friends, fellow outlaws the Merry Men. But Scott attempts to take us back earlier than that, discussing how British soldier Robin Longstride became the rogue we all know and love.

The film begins with a piece of wrinkled, yellowing parchment, which in “Star Wars”-like fashion tells viewers “the outlaw took his place in history” at the turn of the 12th century in England, when tyrannical rulers squeezed their subjects into submission. For years, thousands of British men have served in King Richard the Lionheart’s (Danny Huston) Crusades abroad while their wives and families suffered at home; now, though, the army is only one stop away from returning to their country. While attacking a castle in France, Longstride (Crowe) stands out: A leader among the archers, he cares not only for his regiment but also for others, such as aiding another soldier who gets stuck on a castle wall.

But when the king interrupts a fistfight that night between Longstride and future friend Little John (Kevin Durand) and asks for his opinion on the Crusades, that’s when things start unraveling pretty quickly – even though the movie is barely 15 minutes in. It’s unbelievable that an English soldier of the day would care about the feelings of all the Muslims they had to massacre, but Longstride does, a thinly veiled attempt at making viewers think he sympathizes with the average man. So when Richard tells him he’s “naïve” for thinking that way, Longstride has no issue abandoning the cause when the king is killed the next day in battle; Little John and fellow archers Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes) and Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) go along with him.

While they try to figure out a way to get home, everyone else seems to be scheming, too. Richard’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eileen Atkins) can’t figure out why her youngest son, John (Oscar Isaac) is getting it on with a French princess, Isabella of Angoulême (Léa Seydoux) when it’s common knowledge France is looking for an excuse to attack England; though Eleanor knows John is unfit to rule, she’s also aware that he’s hungry for power. Similarly looking for a piece of the figurative pie is John’s childhood friend Godfrey (Mark Strong), who is teaming up with the French to bring down his own country from the inside; ordered to assassinate Richard, he’s shocked to learn the king is already dead by Robert Locksley of Nottingham (Douglas Hodge), who was tasked with taking the crown back to England.

But when Longstride and his men stumble upon the scene, causing Godfrey to flee, they realize they can get back home by impersonating Locksley and his men. That move then entangles them in a web of assumed identities and feuds that draws him to Marion (Cate Blanchett), Locksley’s wife who has struggled to maintain his estate while he’s away at war, and causes Longstride to discover his past (he can’t remember his childhood or what happened to his father). During these past 10 years, Marion has had to deal not only with taking care of her elderly father-in-law Walter (Max von Sydow), but also scaring off the village orphans – who wear creepy masks and raid her supplies – and fending off the advances of the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfayden). Fragile maid, she ain’t.

While Blanchett’s, Crowe’s and Strong’s performances aren’t that bad, it’s Scott’s vision that is fundamentally flawed. The film jumps from setting to setting, making the narrative disjointed and choppy; viewers know we should root for Longstride, but his transformation into a man preaching for democracy and the rights of commoners takes too many shortcuts; and the excessive use of slow-motion in the ultimate battle scene is laughable. Plus, too many things toward the end of the film just don’t make sense: How does Marion know how to fight? Why would those little orphans want to help out? What did Godfrey expect for himself once France invaded England? (Don’t expect any answers.)

The excessive violence – battle scenes, arrows through the neck, oceans turned dark red with blood – and sex scenes (not graphic, but certainly implied) don’t really make “Robin Hood” a kid-friendly flick, which is good for parents. There’s no epic here, just a 141-minute dud.

Roxana Hadadi also reviewed "Letters to Juliet."

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