It’s taken me three days to even be half-inspired to put pen to paper about the latest incarnation of the legendary tale of Robin Hood, let alone try to put two thoughts together about it, I was so un-moved by the film that was supposed to be the big kickoff to a star-studded summer movie season. Director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe have delivered big before— this is their fifth collaboration— most notably with the spectacular and Oscar-winning Gladiator in 2000. But Robin Hood is a far cry from Gladiator. I hate to even mention them in the same review, let alone the same sentence, they are such disparate cinematic experiences. But Gladiator must be brought up because Robin Hood feels so influenced by it, both in scope, mood and atmosphere, and even, loosely, certain plot and story elements. They are both about solitary men who emerge from years of battle to discover tyranny and oppression at the hands of royalty and become somewhat reluctant but heroic leaders of their groups of oppressed people. So, I won’t lie. I knew all of this going in.
And I was expecting to see Gladiator 2.
What I wasn’t expecting was a history lesson.
Robin Hood is a minor character in Robin Hood. The main characters are King Richard the Lionheart, Prince John, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the various minions surrounding them who enact their schemes to get power, keep power and withhold power from their enemies. This is a movie about the machinations of power—what really went on behind the castle walls in England during the transition of power from Richard to John and relationship between England and France. Yeah, I was nodding off about halfway through.
Stealing from the rich to give to the poor? Robin and his merry men? Sherwood Forest? Not in this movie. Heck, you barely even see Robin shoot one arrow.
So why is this movie called Robin Hood? Well, as you learn in the final shot of the film, this movie is about how he becomes the outlaw Robin Hood. With the final end card proclaiming “and so the legend begins…” we learn that the whole movie is actually a PREQUEL. NOW they tell us! After we’ve sat through two hours of Medieval History 101?
Somewhere, near the middle of the film, I was just lost. I didn’t know what Russell Crowe was doing, playing in the mud, smirking and posing in his chainmail. Cate Blanchett, who can make a story out of a phonebook, was stuck wandering around a field, looking for someone other than a horse to act with.
There is nothing outrageously bad about this film, but there’s nothing good about it either. It’s just lazy. All the production elements in the world— big-budget battle sequences, location shooting, costumes, extras and mud—can’t ever be enough to cover up the lack of a cohesive, focused and interesting narrative. And taking one of the most recognizable and mythical characters in folklore and putting him in the background and actually making him boring? Yeah, we were robbed.