I mention the history behind the project because it helps make sense of some of the choices this movie makes. A lot of the iconic scenes from past Robin Hoods are absent here and a few characters that have been historically important roles are pushed aside here. That doesn't make this a bad movie, mind you. It's just different. If you think of this as "Robin Hood Begins," then you'll be able to approach the movie with a fresh mind-set and appreciate it for what it is: a Ridley Scott-directed, Russell Crowe-starring action movie. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is coming back from the Crusades in the army of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) of England, when the army pauses on their journey home to pillage a French castle. Bad idea; the Lionheart dies. Robin and his buddies decide to rush to the coast while they can, because they know the rush to England will make boat rides pretty scarce. They weren't the only ones with this idea; Robin Locksley of Nottingham was leading a party of knights to the king's ship to escort his royal crown back to England and give it to the royal family. Again, bad idea; the knights are ambushed by French soldiers, led by Godfrey (Mark Strong), the right-hand man of Prince John. Godfrey is working as a double agent, pretending to be loyal to England, but is really working for France's King Phillip in exchange for power and riches. Robin and his men ambush the ambushers, killing most but Godfrey escapes with a nasty Joker-esque scar from Robin's arrow. Robin promises the dying Locksley to return his family sword to Nottingham and the crown to the royal family. Oddly enough, he does both.
That synopsis doesn't even get into the meat of the story, does it? This is a pretty complicated plot for a character that is supposed to rob from the rich and give to the poor. I could go on, but it gets a little silly. I suppose that should be rephrased as, "I can go on, and it gets a little silly out of context:"
- Robin assumes the identity of Robin Locksley, then abandons it, only to assume it once more upon the request of Locksley's father (Max von Sydow).
- The sheriff of Nottingham is bullied by Godfrey's men and contributes absolutely nothing to the plot or character development of the movie.
- Robin is only referred to as "Robin Hood" twice in the entire movie.
- Are those the Lost Boys from Peter Pan in Sherwood Forest?
- Robin fights for King John.
- Robin is married to Marion before they even kiss.
- There is an implied orgy.
- He steals from the
richchurch and gives to the poorplants crops in the night.
Ridley Scott can direct an action movie in his sleep, which might be why parts of this film are a tad reminiscent of the battle scenes from his previous movies. Still, Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland (who is completely hit and miss --- The Postman AND LA Confidential? Really?!? A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master AND Man on Fire?!?) clearly wanted this to be a unique middle ages experience. This is definitely the most authentic-looking Robin Hood movie to date, with what appears to be genuine military strategy from those times. The weapons look good and they are used correctly; this is important if you're one of those people who doesn't think action heroes should be able to carry anti-aircraft guns and run at the same time. The clothing also is very authentic. The details throughout the film add to the appeal because they aren't necessarily obvious, but every so often I found myself thinking "Oh, look, Robin's bow fingers look different than the rest of his hand," or something like that. Not terribly important stuff always, but nice to see.
Russell Crowe generally acts in movies where he is the only developed character, and that is basically true here. This isn't an Oscar-worthy role for him, but he does everything you want Crowe to do in an action movie: he is tough, honorable, a little sensitive, and looks a little uncomfortable making jokes. Oh, and he's a bad-ass. Can't forget that. The next most developed character is Marion, played by Cate Blanchett; Blanchett, like Crowe, turns in a pretty standard performance here. She's still a go-to actress to play smart characters and she plays the role appropriately. Mark Strong is dastardly as Godfrey, but he doesn't do much except be eeee-veeeel. There is no denying that he does bad well. There is also no denying that he looks like an evil Andy Garcia. The rest of the characters are much less developed. I actually liked Kevin Durand as Little John; he provides a lot of the smiles in the movie and he looks huge here, as opposed to most Little Johns, who have tended toward "big boned" as well as strong. Scott Grimes (Will Scarlet), Alan Doyle (Allan A'Dayle), and Mark Addy (Friar Tuck) are okay as the rest of Robin's Merry Men, but they are in the background for most of the movie. Similarly, William Hurt and Danny Huston are left criminally underused in this story. Matthew Macfayden played the Sheriff of Nottingham, but his three scenes just leave you scratching your head, because he is ineffectual, at best. To be fair to Macfayden, though, the character has nothing to do in this film. On the other hand, Oscar Isaac is suitably weasely as King John, playing rude, ruthless, and wussy simultaneously. Eileen Atkins (as King John's mom) and Lea Seydoux (King John's wife) are fittingly regal and actually succeed with the little material they are given. Overall, I would say the acting is surprisingly good for the number of characters in the movie, but most of the performances are superficial.
That said, there were some things in this movie that bugged me. First of all, I have a problem with movie titles that imply that their story is the definitive telling of a particular tale (see Ed Gein or Pearl Harbor for examples). By calling this movie "Robin Hood," viewers have every reasonable expectation to see the iconic scenes from the legend and previous film adaptations, like the scene where Robin and Little John meet over a river (which is kind-of-not-really replaced with a game of medieval three card monte). I have no problem with that scene (or any others) being omitted here; I just think that, since this is clearly a re-imagining of the story, the title should have been changed to Robin Hood Begins, The Untold Truth of Robin Hood, or even Robin Longstride or Robin of the Hood. Any of these would have clearly pointed out that this story could differ from the more familiar ones.
Another problem I have is the historical inaccuracies. Most Robin Hood stories end when King Richard returns to England to reclaim his throne; here he dies before Robin becomes a Hood. Robin (and his father before him) propose a charter of rights (clearly alluding to the Magna Carta, which King John will eventually sign), but the dates of the movie set this up over a decade early. King John never went into battle. Oh, and one more minor point... the French never invaded England.
Inaccuracies aside, I enjoyed this movie. It's got a lot of plot for a pretty simple story, but it still makes sense. The action is good and the acting is pretty solid throughout. I'm a little surprised that Robin doesn't do his normal Socialist thing of redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor. His whole take on individual freedoms seems an awful lot like Libertarianism to me, which is an interesting direction to take such an iconic character. I wish there was more humor in the movie, but the tone is at least consistent throughout. If the focus had been on character development instead of a plot that incorporated so many known-but-underused characters here, I think the film would have been much more enjoyable. Really, do we need to have Friar Tuck, Allan A'Dayle, William Marshall, or even the Sheriff of Nottingham in this story? No. With so many changes from the traditional tale, this movie could have easily gotten away with omitting a lot of the supporting cast. Of course, some of these criticisms only occurred to me after thinking about the movie for a bit. I have no problem saying that (aside from the history lesson) I had no problems when the movie was playing.