Review: Robin Hood (2010)
May 16, 2010
If you remember the list of my Top Ten Most Anticipated of 2010, then you remember that Robin Hood was sitting pretty, atop the pile in the #1 spot.
So what did I have to say about it almost three months ago?
“Robin Hood is one of my favorite literary figures, so I’m understandably excited that there’s a new Robin Hood movie being made. Gladiator was one of the greatest historical epics of all time, so the reunion of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe is promising. It’s also promising that they abandoned some of the weird ideas that they were toying with back when they were calling it Nottingham. The trailer doesn’t show much, except for lots of epic looking battles, but the tone seems darker and grittier than most other Robin Hood movies (the awful Prince of Thieves being the one possible exception), which could go either way. Just please, God, don’t let them try to make it nuanced.”
So, how did it turn out? Glad you asked!
Robin Hood (2010) is director Ridley Scott’s take on one of the most famous literary figures in history. Robin Hood has been one of my most beloved heroes since before I can remember–in fact, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) is still one of my favorite movies of all time, and Robin Hood (1977) is my favorite animated Disney movie–so, naturally, I approached this incarnation with a turbulent mixture of childlike glee and abject terror. Adding to my trepidation was the fact that when this particular project was first announced, it was going to be called Nottingham, and Crowe was going to play both Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham, along with a host of other worrisome complications that had no business coming within bowshot of the Robin Hood mythos. Thankfully, they ditched all the crazy stuff, and wisely went with a more straightforward reimagining, rather than the complete overhaul that was originally planned.
This Robin Hood is fundamentally an origin story–but don’t worry, it’s not set in the Nottingham Public High School, if anything, it’s too far to the other end of the age spectrum. Robin Longstride (both the Locksley and Hood monikers both come into play later in the movie) has spent over a decade off fighting with King Richard in the crusades, and finally returns to England, accompanied by his fellow soldiers Little John (Kevin Durand), Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), and Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle). Unfortunately, he finds the people of England taxed half-to-death, and the dastardly Prince John (played to wretched perfection by Oscar Isaac) and his treacherous friend Godfrey (Mark Strong) don’t seem too likely to grant the people of England any respite anytime in the near future. Quite the contrary, actually, as Prince John dispatches Godfrey to plunder everything he can from every town from York to Nottingham. Needless to say, that doesn’t go over so well with the Barons (or Robin Hood for that matter).
Being a Ridley Scott film, Robin Hood recreates and captures its medieval setting beautifully. And, of course, the battle scenes are magnificently epic. If you’re worried about gore, don’t be. The violence is PG-13 and far tamer than Gladiator, and far less frequent than Black Hawk Down. It’s not “dark and gritty” like I was expecting, but rather a well balanced blend of fantasy and realistic-ish-ness (for the most part… stay tuned for more on this). What’s more, it is, in fact, often quite funny. The pacing is perfect for this sort of movie: not as boring as Kingdom of Heaven, and not as frantic as an action movie.
The whole thing is supported by Marc Streitenfeld‘s excellent score, which is suitably rousing when it needs to be, and delightfully subdued and atmospheric when it doesn’t. Streitenfeld deserves a pat on the back, because epic soundtracks can easily feel overwrought…*cough*Transformers 2*cough*, but Streitenfeld’s score never even comes close to being overdone.
Morally, Robin Hood‘s world is refreshingly black and white (with one notable exception, but more on that in a bit). It is always clear who the good guys are, and equally clear who the bad guys are. The good characters are generally delightful: Little John, Will Scarlett, and Allan A’Dayle are charming and clever rogues, Friar Tuck is hilarious and eminently likable, William Hurt was–obviously–fantastic as the Earl William Marshal, Cate Blanchett was better than expected as Marion, and Crowe is an okay-but-old Robin, despite his occasionally uneven accent. The bad guys, on the other hand, are the sort of distasteful fellows that you will love to hate. They’re greedy, murderous, slimy, corrupt, and duplicitous degenerates. The previously mentioned exception to the black-white rule is the Crusades, which really are only discussed in a short part at the very beginning of the movie, and then they’re mostly forgotten. King Richard’s crusade is seen primarily as a colossal fool’s errand which was punctuated by a godless massacre at Acre.
Interestingly, Robin Hood also manages to portray the church and its leadership as greedy, evil, and corrupt, without succumbing to the temptation to throw the Christianity baby out with the bathwater.
However… (You knew this was coming, didn’t you?) Robin Hood is not without its magic-tarnishing problems. To be honest, I enjoyed this mostly as a generic epic, rather than as a Robin Hood movie. It’s just not very Robin Hood-y, and if you’re okay with that then you’ll probably enjoy this. If you’re going to freak out about how it’s not even remotely doing justice to the source material (and trust me, it doesn’t come close), then you’ll probably hate it. Some of the liberties taken with the story are the kind that yank you out of the movie and have you raising one eyebrow and muttering “seriously!?” to yourself. To wit: Basically everything having to do with Robin’s father, the role of King Richard, the fact that half of England is apparently unable to distinguish between their own coat of arms and the coat of arms of an enemy, some of the philosophical anachronisms, and most egregious of all: *Spoiler!* Marion’s role in the final battle. */Spoiler!* What in the name of all that is holy were they smoking? Whoever thought that this was a good idea needs to be excommunicated from Hollywood for all eternity. I don’t care if it was Steven freaking Spielberg… Stick ‘em in a shipping crate and send ‘em to the Sahara so they can torture the camels with their bright ideas.
All in all, the glee did win out (sort of) over the terror, and I enjoyed it, despite its shortcomings.
3.5 out of 5 zipped lips.
…But seriously, this is the best you could do with some of the greatest source material in the English language?! Curse you Brian Helgeland!