Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe are back for a fifth go around, and Robin Hood marks the conclusion of what I have aptly entitled the Ridley Scott Epic Trilogy. But unfortunately unlike the two prior installments (Gladiator & Kingdom of Heaven) Robin Hood fails to be much of an epic and more of a well fashioned tale.
Russell Crowe has been very vocal in saying this isn't you're typical Robin Hood film, and that's correct, but this isn't your typical Robin Hood because the characters are different (they really aren't) but because the focus is different. The easiest way to describe Robin Hood is as a prequel, a prequel to every Robin Hood film come before it. Where most films focus on Robin Hood as a vigilante, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, being hounded by the Sheriff of Nottingham and King John, none of that has yet occurred. This is the story, which simply put, sets all that in proper context.
Our story begins with Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) and his band of "merry men" fighting for the English King Richard The Lionheart against the French. Robin honestly provides his opinion on the decisions of Richard when asked by the King himself, this gets him and his "merry" friends locked up, but only for a short period as Richard quickly falls in battle at the hand of a common enemy archer. The crown is therefore sent back to England in the possession of Robert Loxley, the King's right hand man, but Loxley and the knights accompanying him are ambushed by an English traitor named Godfrey (Mark Strong) who is working with the King of France in a plan to take over England. The plan was for Godfrey to kill the King on his journey home, but he soon discovers the King is already dead.
Robin Longstride and his men, now free, happen to stumble upon Godfrey at the conclusion of the ambush, and Godrey manages to escape their surprise attack. This leaves Robin and his men in a rather interesting predicament, and thus with the crown in their possession they disguise themselves as knights with the goal of returning the crown to England and beginning for themselves a new life. Robin takes on the identity of Robert Loxley, whose dying wish was for him to return his sword to his father, it's a promise that will lead Robin to meet Loxley's wife, Marion (Cate Blanchett), and assist him in remembering some key events in his repressed childhood.
Meanwhile the incredibly immature and now King John is foolishly making changes that will soon backfire. He fires one of the King's (Richard and his father's) advisers, William Marshall (William Hurt), and places Godfrey in the position. Unaware that Godfrey had planned to kill his brother and is secretly loyal to the enemy. John grants Godfrey the right to go into the surrounding towns and collect the unpaid taxes due to England, gathering payment through either gold or blood. Godfrey takes with him a French army managing to turn most of the followers of the King against the crown. With an attack on England eminent King John turns back to Marshall and the people to try and save his himself before not only the French attack him, but also his own people. In the end, it's Robin Longstride who manages to bring them all together.
The long standing curse that will forever haunt Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe is ironically the success of Gladiator. While it's nearly impossible to capture lightning in a bottle twice, they'll never escape the comparisons with any film that even remotely resembles it. Kingdom of Heaven suffered the ill-fated barrage of comparison's and even before Robin Hood hit theaters it too was receiving the same treatment. Neither film is even close to resembling Gladiator, and if you're of the mind to compare them then you've already made a decision to not give either film a fair shot. As for Robin Hood, I've never been a big follower of the "legend" myself or seen very many film re-incarnations of the character, but I will say if your looking for a film about the hooded hero, you'll be sorely disappointed.
There are a few brief occasions where "the hood" is referred to and even one scene which is more of an homage to past Robin Hood film's, where Robin dawns the hood and steals grain back for the people of Nottingham, but that's about as far as the Robin Hood persona is taken. Once again this is really pre-Robin Hood, and it's not until the conclusion of the film that the recognized Robin Hood story is given credence, and I find it doubtful that Ridley or Russell will venture into sequel territory to explore that. As a film Robin Hood reminded me a lot of my feelings toward Master and Commander, solid but not groundbreaking, good but not great, a little too long but not to the point of boredom.
The action sequences sometimes pale in comparison to those found in the "Epic Trilogy's" prior two installments. Personally I blame that on the decision to go PG-13 with the film's violence, which I was most disappointed in. I understand the need to appeal to a younger base since Robin Hood has always been somewhat of a children's story, but this is not your typical Robin Hood and the action sequences would have greatly benefited from a more gruesome touch. It's part of what made Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven great films, had that been carried over to Robin Hood (especially with the addition with bow's and arrows) I think it would have given this film the extra edge it needed. Very brief signs of this are shown in the closing battle between Robin Longstride and Godfrey, with one specific scene being about as gruesome as the film ventures to go. It's probably the best scene in the film.
Aside from some of the rather mundane action sequences there not lot more negative things I can say about the film, but also nothing extremely praiseworthy I can say either. The story is pretty deep, weaving in a lot of famous Robin Hood characters quite well, such as Friar Tuck, The Sheriff and Richard the Lionheart. None of them are ever explored in much detail, but at an already lengthy run-time of two and a half hours there really isn't time. I thought it was interesting how Ridley setup Lionheart as the introduction to the film, when he happened to use him in the closing of Kingdom of Heaven. In fact those crusades that Richard was going on are even referred to in the opening of the film by Robin Longstride (who himself fought in them), which I thought was a nice way to connect the two films in time.
The cast was very well assembled, I especially liked King John (Oscar Isaac) who reminded me so much of the Disney animated King John, a really immature, weaselly, greasy looking guy who'd you'd be stupid to believe a thing he said. I half expected him to throw a tantrum and start sucking his thumb! I also liked the casting of the Sheriff (Matthew Macfadyen), unfortunately he doesn't get much screen time because nothing in the story has anything to do with him, but by any chance there did happen to be a sequel (which again I highly doubt it) I would love to see that character explored with Matthew in the role.
As for Russell and Cate I was pleased, but not overly impressed. There's nothing I can physically pinpoint to give as a reason, but after the over twenty plus Russell Crowe films I've reviewed in the past couple months this didn't stand out as one of the best, but more so a little formulaic and not extremely relatable. Part of that is probably due to the overwhelming amount of key characters in the film, making it impossible for Robin Longstride to get as much attention as he probably deserved. As for Blanchett she is the Keira Knightley of King Arthur version of Maid Marion, very head strong and tom boyish. Her performance is good, but the scene at the end of the film where she rides out to accompany Robin into battle with all the orphan children on ponies, who were shown throughout the film running through the forests like some kind of uncivilized tribe, was extremely campy.
Overall, Robin Hood is a good portrayal of the man before he became a legend, the cast is great, the story is good, the flow is okay, the action is average. It's my solid belief in films such as these that action sequences can do major damage to a film if not done properly, and I think Ridley took a huge risk in toning down his usual demeanor to make Robin Hood more "family friendly". Still Robin Hood is nowhere near as horrible as all the critics are making it out to be, it's certainly worth seeing and probably a film that with age will grow on a lot of people, including myself.