Over the past ten years director Ridley Scott has had a very distinctive career formula. Starting with the award winning epic “Gladiator” Scott has gone from epic period piece to smaller drama based films like “Matchstick Men.” And lately people have started to believe that the man who gave us “Blade Runner,” “Alien,” and the before mentioned “Gladiator” is suffering from diminishing returns. Maybe they are right with his new film “Robin Hood” or maybe Scott is willing to against the grain that today’s Hollywood has established.
From the very beginning of “Robin Hood,” like many of Scott’s epics, it sets it’s self up to be a sweeping classical film. And throughout the its runtime it is able to maintain that feel for the most part. But like many epics we are left little time with each of the characters. Scott does try to correct this with some early character moments the Robin’s merry men and some decent humor. But the audience is given little time with basic cast of Robin, Little John, Will Scarlett, and Allan A’Dayle together as a team. Instead of a group we are given three side kicks and they are played as exactly that. The actors try their very best to give of their characters as much of an individual personality as possible but the film breaks down to giving them all the same joke to play off of. It may have been a different situation if each of them where given a hero moment in any of the large battles but the most the audience receives is watching Little John beating some one to death with his axe.
Of course the film isn’t called The Merry Men but Robin Hood, and this is the biggest downfall of the film. In popular culture Robin Hood is known as a jolly adventurer who does his best to help those less fortunate. He is a selfless hero that audiences have related to for centuries to do his wit and charm. Sadly much of that is missing in Scott and Crowe’s incarnation of the legendary figure. Crowe plays Robin more like a lost soul searching for his place in a world filled with war than a quick witted man trying to do the right thing. And screen writer Brain Helgoland isn’t even curious in creating a legend out of a man with no home. Instead he just dumps situations on Robin’s lap and has the character play out the situation since he doesn’t have any other real choice.
Now since this film is called Robin Hood everything above is a real problem with the film. The name holds a certain weight in the public’s subconscious. But that’s not the film Scott wanted to make. The name being thrown around by people is “Robin Hood Begins” which is more apt but the name of Robin Hood doesn’t really belong at all. Any resemblance of the character doesn’t show up until very late in the film. Up to that point the runtime is filled with political maneuvering between the newly crowned King John, the obviously evil Godfrey and the lords of England headed by William Marshal played by the seemly absent William Hurt. The character of Robin Hood does play his part but again it isn’t until late in the film.
The entire film feels like a set up to create the environment that the character of Robin Hood can actually exist in. And under the circumstances for that to take place do feel natural and makes sense. Scott uses established notions of the Robin Hood legacy and twisted them in a way that made them feel real and exist in 12th century logic(except for one glaring plot hole in spoiler territory). In most tellings of the Robin Hood story we are told that King John is evil and never shown. However here the audience is show in extreme detail that King John is a wimp and a douche.
Many people will walk away feeling robbed by this film. In my screening alone about a dozen people walked out half way through. And it’s all because Ridley Scott was not out to make a traditional Robin Hood film. This is an epic filled with a variety of characters all given their own motivations and subplots and not just about the creation of Robin Hood. This isn’t just Robin story but a story about the early strife’s and hardships of the English people. Maid Marion, played by Cate Blanchett, is the biggest example of this. Her husband was sent to war and never returned leaving her with an elderly father-in-law and an entire township to look after. The threat of taxation and starvation continually looms over her. Her people are desperate for some one to stand up for them. Enters Robin Hood and his Merry Men.
Does the film live up to Scotts previous works? Not really but it does say that he is a solid old fashion director. If this film came out fifty years ago it might have been regarded as an American classic. The pacing, character development, and large scale are all there they just don’t work with modern audiences. With Iron Man 2 still in theatre’s, giving us superheroes, and Shrek 4 giving middle America their generic laughs per minute Scott’s Robin Hood will be quickly forgotten. It does everything a classic film would do and nothing truly new.
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