Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Robin Hood (2010) Review

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Robin Hood (2010)
The soldier who became a noble. The noble who became an outlaw. The outlaw who became a legend.

Except we don’t really get to see that last part. You know, the part that everyone knows as the story of Robin Hood. What we have here is a prequel, one that deals with how this mysterious man becomes someone who steals from the rich, gives to the poor, and lives in Sherwood Forest. It comes from the pairing of Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott, the star/director team who also gave us Gladiator and American Gangster (and A Good Year and Body of Lies, but no one really thinks much of those), which gives the movie a pretty strong pedigree behind the scenes. Before the idea of a straight prequel became the basis for the story, however, the two were kicking around a few more outside-the-box premises. One of them would have shifted the story’s focus over to the Sheriff of Nottingham as he hunts Robin Hood, while another would have seen Crowe playing both Robin and the Sheriff (which would have been really strange). But I kind of wish they had settled on the Sheriff-focused plot, because it sounds much more interesting than the finished product we got.

Plot Synopsis: Robin Longstride isn’t the outlaw Robin Hood presented in previous incarnations. Instead, he’s a common archer in King Richard the Lionheart’s army during the Third Crusade, fighting against France. During a siege on a French castle, Richard is struck down in battle and Robin and his three friends John, Will, and Allan use this as an opportunity to go home to England to return the king’s crown. Along the way, they come across an English knight, Sir Robert Loxley, being ambushed by Sir Godfrey, an Englishman who is in allegiance with the French. Godfrey was sent to murder Richard personally, but soon turns his sights on Robin (who has now assumed the identity of Loxley) after he learns that Robin is carrying the crown. After Richard’s brother John is appointed the new king of England, Robin then sets off for Loxley’s town of Nottingham, where he meets Robert’s father Walter and his wife Marian. Despite assuming the guise of Loxley in order to keep the town’s panic to a minimum, Godfrey is slowly setting his plans in motion that will open the doors for a massive French invasion of England.

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I’m all for finding new ways of approaching classic characters, so as long as they create an engaging storyline to back that up. Brian Hegeland’s script strips the title character of almost the qualities which audiences expect from him, but it doesn’t really give us reason to care. Aside from the occasional humorous moment between Robin, his merry men, and Marion, the overly serious tone doesn’t help matters and there isn’t much fun to be had here. Take that and drag this story out to two and a half hours and by the end all we have are grand action scenes and the actors to keep us invested. But while the plot routinely and unremarkably goes through the motions, there are certain developments that prove interesting in setting up the prequel storyline. The way Robin is written as a common man thrust into this grander situation (such as in the method that he attains the name of Loxley) certainly finds a new angle in which to bring the character where he eventually goes, which lends the story a welcome unpredictability, something other re-imaginings should take note of.

There is also a gallery of fine actors on display giving decent performances, although some of them don’t seem as invested in their characters as others. Russell Crowe, I have to say, disappointed me a little here. I thought an actor of his caliber could have made something special. His unshaven mug and tough guy-ness adds a layer of world-weariness to the character, but Crowe just looks like he’s channeling Maximus from Gladiator and maybe even phoned in a few parts of his performance. Mark Strong (Sir Godfrey), hot off his great turn in Kick-Ass, is once again found playing the villain, and there isn’t much to distinguish him as anything other than average. Oscar Issac’s King John is a much more entertaining baddie to watch, despite the fact that Godfrey’s the grand schemer. The good-guy supporters are much stronger, especially Cate Blanchett as Marian. Her interaction with Crowe provide some much needed moments of levity, as do the scenes with Little John, Will Scarlett, Allan A’Dayle, and Friar Tuck. Max Von Sydow also gives a poignant turn as the grieving Sir Walter Loxley.

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As with director Ridley Scott’s previous movies, the production values here are strong, with some great cinematography coupled with beautiful locations and production design. Scott’s movies never look cheap, and he lends the movie his usual technical finesse and tight craftsmanship. The action scenes are suitably gritty and brutal but not too dark (the movie stays within the safe PG-13 zone thankfully), but the final battle succumbs to too many clich├ęs and shameless borrowing from other movies (it’s like Saving Private Ryan circa 12th century). There’s also the occasional moment where it’s hard to tell what’s going on because the action is filmed up close. Scott is clearly reaching for epic status here, but at the cost of the movies pacing. As I said before, the movie is two and a half hours long, and you feel it too. I get the impression that this theatrical version of the movie is much like Ridley’s own Kingdom of Heaven, which was stripped of an hour of depth and development, only to be reinstated later in a vastly superior and involving director’s cut. Is it too much to ask for one on the DVD?

However, despite my multitude of issues with Robin Hood, I don’t consider it a bad movie. The pedigree of its cast and crew certainly proves that alone. The problem is that this could have been so much better than what is playing now, and the fact that nothing particularly fulfilling is contained within this treatment is dispiriting. I saw a review online that called the movie “Episode I: The French Menace”, which isn’t that bad of a comparison. We know the characters and the setting, but this isn’t how we remembered them being.

2/4

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