Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, serves as the prequel to the familiar Robin Hood stories based in Sherwood Forest. “The legend begins” are the closing lines in the film. We get little more than an introduction to the regular characters, recognized as Little John (Kevin Durand), Friar Tuck (Mark Addy); Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes); and The Sheriff of Nottingham. We never see any merry men in tights.
There is a new-fangled history that has a sense of déjà vu surrounding the tale of the non-swashbuckling Robin Hood, named Robin Longstride, played by the restrained Russell Crowe. He is a soldier fighting under King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), as a crusader – making his way home under a counterfeit identity.
King Richard’s evil brother (Oscar Isaac) becomes one of the movies villains, formerly known as Prince John and quickly becoming King John. “John” gains the crown and instantly taxes his people to death.
The castle storming scene at the beginning is enjoyable and creates a hopeful tone. There is some village plundering throughout and the big “ole” fight scene at the end. If you love to hate the French, you will enjoy their ineptness; an amorphous bunch of sappy and unskilled soldiers. They storm their own beaches at Normandy it appears, at the dumbest location imaginable – hemmed in by cliff walls, an ocean and tiny escape route, small enough to be blocked by a large troll or an average-sized ogre.
“Robin” continues his guise under the assumed identity of Robert Loxley, after some coaxing by the blind seer Sir Walter Loxley – in order to satisfy legal issues of the time (to defraud the banking system).
There is a side-story of mysterious masked orphans creeping through the forests and plundering their own poor communities to survive. Their limited appearance seems to be setting the stage for a sequel. They somehow find the final battle after “two days” ride, accompanying Robin’s love interest, Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett), who shows up dressed to fight, seeking revenge and ultimately becoming a major distraction for the battling hero Robin Hood (or “of the Hood,” or “Longstride” or “Robert Loxley”).
Russell Crowe is a good hero. He should be; he played the same character in Gladiator, an unbelievable loyal soldier and archer that wins the respect of others with his honor and bravado. He’s a quiet man most of the time, but when he speaks, people listen.
As in Gladiator, the villain King hates Robin for earning the love of the people – love that the slimy, weak, perverted king desires for himself. Royal class trickery and manipulation is also present, perpetrated by the English double-agent Godfrey (Mark Strong) – all in the name of power and greed.
The scenery is natural, grand, and deserves attention. There are dark, lush, old-growth forests, hills; cliffs; fields; and villages; viewed from various vantage points, which give the movie some epic relevance.
This film does not have a smooth continuous downstream flow from put-in till take-out. There are numerous tributaries and backwaters that must be navigated to understand the story; so many, that Mr. Scott, injects text throughout to clarify things. It would be nice if he just relied on setting, dialogue and characters to indicate the changes in time, location and nationality, and let the viewers figure it out – without cheat sheets. Then again, maybe England in the late 12th century all looked the same, with only subtle changes in native dialect and scenery, making Scott’s direction the only viable way to tell the story. In addition to the text parchment signs, we hear characters say things like “two days” – to deal with the movie’s time issues and “you’re English” – to clarify a character’s origins.
This film was a challenging project and did not lack in effort, a formidable story to tell – numerous actors were injured filming the battle scenes and Ridley Scott needs applauded for his exertion.
The cast is strong and the film is big and must be hurried to cover so much territory. The film is two-and-half-hours in length but not boring. The battle scenes, full of action, are not as outrageous as anticipated. The pieces of the puzzle fit together in the end; a good prequel that sets the stage for what could be an even better sequel. If Robin Hood wasn’t eclipsed by Gladiator, it would receive better reviews.