Ridley Scott’s is an easy body of work to admire. Motion pictures like Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator have all entered the pantheon of cinematic greats, cementing the director as one of the medium’s most inspired visionaries. Hell I even found a hefty amount to admire in the heavily slated theatrical cut of Kingdom of Heaven, so my grand appreciation of Scott as a filmmaker really isn’t up for debate. However as was the case with Scott’s last venture behind the camera (2008’s Body of Lies), Robin Hood is a massively disappointing feature, the first 90 minutes of this origin story actually bordering on unwatchable.
Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is a warrior fighting in King Richard the Lionheart’s (Danny Huston) Crusades. When the king is felled in battle by an arrow, Robin and his accomplices (Scott Grimes, Kevin Durand and Alan Doyle) decide to venture home; only to oversee a French ambush orchestrated by English traitor Godfrey (Mark Strong) claim the lives of those men returning the crown to British shores. Deciding to travel under the deceased soldier’s identities, Robin returns the crown and see’s it placed atop the slimy King John (Oscar Isaac). Robin then rides to Nottingham to complete a promise to a fallen comrade, returning the man’s sword to his blind father Walter Loxley (Max Von Sydow). Loxley then convinces Robin to pretend to be his son; so that Nottingham can stay at peace. Whilst there Robin meets the young Loxley’s widow Marian (Cate Blanchett), and their relationship begins to bloom. However Godfrey is leading a French inspired campaign of terror all across the land, so when it arrives in Nottingham; Robin is forced to meet his destiny and set his legend in motion.
Robin Hood is a truly spiritless retelling of a fantastical story, Scott and his screenwriters having reformed the legend into a pile of uninspired mush. The filmmakers deserve some kudos for taking the tale in such a drastically different direction, but based on what’s been produced a more generically heroic take might have been more digestible. Scott becomes embroiled in the politics of the time, leaving the adventuring and gallant battle scenes on the back burner, unleashing them at the end when it is infinitely too late. Robin Hood is a soul crushingly dull blockbuster and an early misfire for the 2010 summer season.
Russell Crowe makes for a surprisingly wooden Robin, failing to find any spark or humour in the character’s much examined DNA. The actor looks convincing when wielding bow or sword, but the chances for medieval battle mongering are few and far between, leaving only a selection of tepid dramatic sequences for Crowe to ply his trade. His accent is also wildly uneven, exactly what region it’s meant to represent is an enigma. It’s a boring lead performance for a boring movie. Cate Blanchett is much more watchable and actually imbues Marian with a sense of emotional instability, suffering after the death of her husband and struggling with Nottingham’s food crisis. Her scenes with Crowe ignite little chemistry or sense of fate, but in every other capacity the actress is a steely success. Oscar Isaac also makes a good King John, bringing a terrifically wormy nature to the table, and firing out all the film’s best dialogue. Mark Strong who is playing the bad guy everywhere at the moment (brilliant in Kick-Ass, not bad in Sherlock Holmes) is unimposing as Godfrey, albeit that’s more the writer’s fault than that of the thespian. Finally Robin’s merry men are played nicely by Durand, Doyle and Grimes, but the trio aren’t given enough screen time to really register.
With Scott at the helm Robin Hood was always going to look excellent, and indeed it does. A sense of place and time is well captured and the polished cinematography looks like it’s been taken very seriously. However these technical victories aren’t enough to overcome the narrative blunders. Robin Hood spends far too much of its time examining the era’s political landscape, leaving little proper room for the cheeky adventuring that audiences seek from the character. Under Scott’s leadership the property has darkened down considerably, but even that is little excuse for the lack of entertaining battle sequences, brash villainy or windswept romance. Oscar Isaac nobly attempts to inject some cartoonish life into proceedings, but ultimately it’s not enough, as everyone else sets solidly into ashen faced bore mode. The relationship between Robin and Marian is frostily executed, and his buddies simply aren’t around enough for a feeling of brotherly love to emerge. The obvious inclusion of the Magna Carta and other documents of the time are clever, but their insertion into the plot is clumsy, leading to extensively dour bureaucratic discussions rather than ramped up thrills.
Any attempts to humanize the leading man are broad and obvious, the film reliant on flashbacks in order to lazily instil it’s hero with a tragic legacy. When the battle scenes come about they do tend to be quite good, a beach bound finale managing levels of adrenaline the rest of the picture so desperately requires. However by that point Robin Hood has simply gone too far adrift, no amount of well shot bloodshed or tonally epic music would have been enough to resuscitate the project. The film closes with the words “so the legend begins”; audiences are just likely to be thankful the tedium is over.