Much of what’s wrong with “Robin Hood” could have been solved if they had renamed the hero and his posse and called the film “Magna Carta.” What could’ve been sold as an epic about the first flickers of the rule of law instead comes off as a not-quite satisfying retooling of a familiar legend that leaves one wondering, ”Where’s all the archery?”
“Whatever you think about Robin Hood has been a perfectly understandable mistake,” Russell Crowe, the film’s star, said recently.
Yes, well, Mr. Crowe, your opinion on that matter is a perfectly understandable mistake. The true legend – whatever that means -- of Robin Hood has been so hopelessly muddied by time that it’s impossible to know what is fact and what is fiction. For most of us, the story of Robin Hood has been cobbled together with scraps from Errol Flynn, Mr. Magoo, Kevin Costner, Walt Disney and Mel Brooks.
It’s great that director Ridley Scott and Crowe wanted to reboot the legend of Robin Hood, an approach that Chris Nolan brought so successfully to “Batman Begins.” But when they called their movie “Robin Hood,” they implicitly promised to tell a story they weren’t interested in.
Where Nolan spent 20 or 30 minutes developing his iconic character and let us watch him in action for another 90, Scott’s Robin Hood takes a full two hours to come into focus, by which time the credits (which are great, by the way) are rolling.
The fall of Richard the Lionheart, the ascension of his brother John, the intrigue with France, the War of the Barons, the Magna Carta – it's all great theater, stories told time and again, but not on a scale that Ridley Scott can deliver.
Scott, as is his custom, delivers a visually rich experience. With grand castles and forts, huge ships crashing across the bounding main, and wide sweeping vistas, it’s a feast for the eyes. And the action, while not up to Scott’s best, has its moments.
The story does suffer a “Casino Royale” sag just past the halfway mark when the story grinds to a near halt for Robin to woo Marion – he evens tries the old “Could you help me with my chainmail?” line. Yawn.
Crowe and Cate Blanchett as Marion are both in such familiar territory that it seems it’s hard for them to get to geared up for things. What helps keep the story moving, however, is an outstanding supporting cast led by Max Von Sydow and William Hurt.
Danny Huston gives nice turn as an over-it-all Richard and Oscar Isaac gives the film a breath of fresh air as the hopelessly vain, horny, greedy, out-of-his depths King John. And poor Mark Strong plays the heavy once again – “Sherlock Holmes,” “Kick-Ass” -- if he’s not careful, children are going to start spitting on him as he walks down the street.
“Robin Hood” has just enough Robin Hood that we’ll probably start seeing jackalopes in green carrying bows and quivers and sacks of Obama’s gold at Tea Party rallies, but not enough for anyone with any preconceived notions about the legend. But even for those coming to see “Magna Carta,” the story isn’t quite the ripping yarn you’d hope for.