Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Return of Robin Hood

When I heard way back when about Ridley Scott's upcoming adventure in Sherwood Forest with everybody's favourite thief I knew from that moment that eventually I would be sitting in a theatre watching it.  For some reason I just fucking love the whole Robin Hood myth, and have devoted countless hours reading books, watching movies and even doing my own research about it.  For all you morons out there I'm sorry I just shattered your world by revealing that yes Robin Hood is a myth and never really existed, just like Santa Claus (a pseudo-religious mythical figure) and Colin Farrell (a digital creation put together by a group of our handsomest scientists at NASA and Lucasfilm).  So anything they do with the character is fair game in my opinion, and I like to see all the different variations and interpretations of how he came to be an outlaw and shitting all over the Sherriff of Nottingham and Prince John.

Of course I was totally stoked for this project in particular which was helmed by Ridley Scott, the genius behind such little-known films as Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator, Legend, and American Gangster.  Now granted he hasn't had as many hits as Martin Scorcese (who has?), but when this guy is on he is fucking on.  I remember a lot of people criticizing the movie saying it was like Gladiator but in England, like that was a bad thing. 

So this is the story of Robin Hood before he was Robin Hood.  Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is an archer in King Richard's army returning from the (in)famous crusades in the so-called Holy Land.  Through a series of unfortunate events Robin and his friends, Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), Allan A'Dayle (Alan Doyle), and grudging accomplice Little John (Kevin Durand) end up deserting the army and trying to make their way back to jolly old England.  Along the way they encounter and quickly dispatch a bunch of bad Frenchmen (really which ones AREN'T bad?) led by Godfrey (Mark Strong).  They then discover the crown of the recently deceased King Richard so they disguise themselves as high-ranking English soldiers and Robin -under the guise of Sir Robert Loxley- and deliver the crown to Richard's much younger and obviously more evil brother John (Oscar Isaac)  Robin then delivers on a promise to return the real Robert Loxley's sword back to his father whereby he is convinced to retain his new identity for reasons which aren't really important here.  One thing leads to another and Robin gets his dick wet with his first of presumably many robberies.  He then ends up helping  King John stop an invasion from the French (bastards!) but in the end is betrayed by the young monarch and officially declared to be an outlaw for posing as a nobleman.  So the legend begins!

I so want to say that I love this movie, and I tried really, really hard (I swear!) but really the overall feeling I get from this movie is a shoulder-shrugging "Meh."  I really dug the overall concept, the set design was fantastic, live locations were breathe-taking, and the battles were expertly staged and filmed.  Even the acting was good for the most part.  This is an example of a bunch of really good elements that for some reason or another just didn't click.  Part of it may have been a relatively weak script which had a really strong overall concept but individually weak elements.  One of the big weaknesses is how the subplot invovling Robin's father is handled.  I don't know if it was just too cliche or what, but what should have been a key emotional catalyst is just kind of thrown in the mix near the end.  I mean by the time the "big reveal" comes it lacks so much emotional relevence to the character that even Russell Crowe's otherwise solid performance is marred by a very weak counter-climactic reaction.  For the whole father/son thread to resonate with the audience it has to be woven a lot more intricately than that into the story.  What could have or should have been a major thematic element seemed more like an afterthought.  Then there's this really confusing subplot about a bunch of orphan kids living in Sherwood forest making coordinated, guerrilla-like attacks on Maid Marion's (Cate Blanchett) town.  This thread too is completely dropped and NEVER mentioned again until the end of the movie when it is inexplicably brought back for some reason.

Another problem for me was confusing or completely lacking character motivation.  The one in particular I'm thinking of is Isabella (Lea Seydoux), King John's main squeeze.  Halfway through the film she is approached by John's mother and told that she (Isabella) must be the one to warn John of the impending French invasion and the trouble with the barons.  But early on it's established that not only is she French nobility she is also a cousin to the king of France.  So are her loyalties to her countrymen so easily forgotten, or does her love for John overpower the love of her former king and country?  See it just isn't made clear why she should give a shit about the French invasion.  I mean either way she'll come out on top (boo-yah!).  Either she marries John, or she marries some other high-ranking French noble after the French control England.  Either way she advances her position.  The main antoagonist of the film, a nobleman by the name of Godfrey, seems very two-dimensional and once again his motivation is never made clear.  Why is he helping the French?  Is it just for the money?  Did he marry some young French maiden and is having problems getting her through immigration so he decides, fuck it, she won't have any problems if England becomes part of France?  Is he a straight-up anarchist who just wants to see shit burn?  He just seemed too two-dimensional.  Even King John by the end of the movie seemed like an asshole with no redeeming qualities.  There was plenty of room in the narrative and many clues given that there was more depth to his character, but by the end all this is forgotten and it seems his existence serves only as a plot device to quickly turn Robin into an "official" outlaw at the end of the movie.

Now on the flip side of the coin, Scott knows how to do an action scene.  The battle scenes were excellent and the siege of te French castle early on really gave the feel of what it might be like to actually have to break through such heavy defences.  King Richard's death was pretty cool, and I'm not sure how historically accurate it was, but the whole idea of this great man, this king, being cut down by a lowly cook (no, NOT Steven Seagal) was a really cool juxtaposition.  Also seeing how Robin Hood became Robin Hood was an interesting take.  I really liked how Robin and the first of his merry men were hardcore war veterans.  That way they didn't have to explain how they kicked so much ass.  There were also the obligatory -but thankfully not over the top- archery shots to show Robin's legendary proficiency with the bow.

I think we should've taken that left turn at Albuquerque...

The acting was good, but not great.  I'm a fan of Russell Crowe and he did a passable job here, but in all fairness I think the weak script might have contributed to the problem here.  Ever since Lost I've had my eye on Kevin Durand and I think he's an excellent pick for Little John.  I don't think I really realized how physically huge this guy really was until this movie.  I was really surprised to see Scott Grimes in this movie, as the only thing I'd ever seen him in was ER and his character was annoying as hell.  I have to say though he did a good job in this movie.  Even more surprising was Alan Doyle as Allan A'Dayle.  For those of you who don't know Doyle is actually the lead singer the popular Candian band Great Big Sea, so how he wound up in this movie only his haridresser knows for sure.  All I know is Scott smartly kept Doyle's speaking parts to a minimum and allowed him to show off his impressive pipes in several scenes where he sings some good old-fashioned English folk tunes.  I must say for three non-British actors I think they did a good job with the accent.  It goes without saying that Cate Blanchett put forth a solid performance.  No matter what she's in you know she's going to give it her all.  Mark Strong is apparently on a bad guy streak, but as I stated in my Kick-Ass review I thought his performance in that movie was much better than here, but once again I think the problem lay in the script not giving him enough to draw on.  Also worthy of mention are William Hurt as the English Lord William Marshal and Danny Huston as a conflicted King Richard.

But therein lies the problem.  Everything was "good" but not "great."  Unfortunately what could have been another excellent addition to Ridley Scott's Top 10 list and my BluRay collection was just another in a series of movies that is making this one of the worst summer movie seasons in a long while.  In my mind the best Robin Hood movie so far is still Prince of Thieves.  What I liked about both this new Robin Hood and Prince of Thieves is that they were both put into historical context which I feel really added to the depth of the movies.  Where the new movie failed is its lack of cohesion in both the story and the overall themes it was looking to explore.  I know a lot of you out there for some reason don't like the Kevin Costner flick because he didn't do a British accent, well all I have to say to you is please firmly grab the stick that is shoved up your asshole, twist slightly to the right, and pull.  Hard.  What Prince of Thieves had that this new film does not was consistency and coherence, both in the plot and in thematic concerns.  It also had rich characters with clear motivation and definable character arcs which Ridley's does not.  (Also I kind of have a thing for Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.)

Alright, despite all my bashing of Robin Hood I didn't entirely hate it.  As a fan of the myth I couldn't help but be entrigued and entertained by this movie.  In the hands of a lesser director this might have failed completely but Ridley Scott was able to salvage it to some degree.  My recomendation is to go into this movie with low expectations and a couple of beers in you.

Overall I give Robin Hood a 6.5/10 = One Villainous Nobleman's Head Mutilated by a Well-Shot Arrow 


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