It’s both telling and fitting that Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is rated PG-13; telling in that the film is so notably bloodless in its numerous battle scenes—especially compared to Scott’s previous war films, like Gladiator and Black Hawk Down; fitting because, story-wise, you’re not likely to enjoy this movie unless you’re fresh into puberty.
The legend of Robin Hood has been told in numerous TV series and television shows, so if one is going to spend two-and-a-half hours re-telling it, they’d better have one hell of a hook. Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland have allegedly presented the true story behind the myth, which would be great if there was a true story to be told. There are lots of theories about Robin Hood, and most of them write him off as an inspirational legend and not a real man; so at best we have a piece of historical fiction posing as history, which we’ve seen a dozen times before.
Unfortunately, the film feels like a greatest hits collection of every swords-and-castles epic ever made, notable only for its inconsistent tone and audacious running time. In his fifth collaboration with Scott this decade, Russell Crowe stars as the titular noble outlaw, who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. Because this version is “historically accurate”, we get tons of backstory and about twenty location changes with title cards explaining the dense plot. It boils down to Robin Longstride (Crowe) and his friends returning home from the Crusades and getting caught up in a political tug-of-war between England’s King John (Oscar Isaac), King Philip of France (Jonathan Zaccai), and the loyal-to-no-one mercenary, Godfrey (Mark Strong).
Robin and company steal the identities of a contingent of knights who were ambushed by Godfrey’s men on their way to deliver the crown of the dead King Richard (Danny Huston); this allows them safe passage to England, where they take up the cause of feeding the poor country folk by stealing from the church’s grain stockpiles. Robin also gets together with Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett), the widow of the knight whose identity he assumed.
All of this amounts to endless battle scenes with countless CG arrows darkening the sky, and many puzzling conversations that feel more like Men in Tights than Kingdom of Heaven. I’m typically a fan of Brian Helgeland’s writing, but the tiresome cutesy banter between Robin and his men and Robin and Marion are wholly out of place with the rest of the film’s dour attempts at gritty realism. My theory is that there is so little chemistry between Crowe—who, even when he’s cracking wise feels like he’s still weeping over his dead family in Gladiator—and the rest of the cast that the screenwriter resorted to sitcom conventions in the hopes that the audience would wake up (or at least recall a similar situation in Two and a Half Men that made them crack half a smile once).
Scott’s direction can’t be faulted here. It’s serviceable but never dazzling, and I think some of that can be attributed to the rating. There are many instances of people getting axes to the face or being run through with swords, but the cutting and angles are so obtuse that it felt like I was watching the edited-for-time-and-content TV version; though it is the perfect metaphor for the lack of blood in the story, so maybe it’s just cosmically intentional instead of actually intentional.
The history and politics of the story is meaningless in the grand scheme of the legend (especially since most of it is likely untrue). I mean, finding out that the evil Sheriff of Nottingham was actually based on a psychopath who sometimes worked for the King is like finding out that Clark Kent wrote for the Sports column of the Daily Planet instead of being a beat reporter. It’s boring minutiae that, compounded with a dozen or more such inconsequential “factoids”, weighs the movie down to such a degree that you’ll fondly recall the Star Wars prequels’ senate hearings as the good ol’ days of adventure filmmaking.
I can only recommend this movie to Ridley Scott completists and children who’ve never heard of Robin Hood. There’s nothing wrong with the movie per se, but there’s not much right with it, either.