There are many definitions of the word “legend.” The first one that comes up on www.dictionary.com is “1. a nonhistorical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical.” This word gets thrown around a lot when the name Robin Hood comes up, most heavily when it comes to Hollywood and now even he is granted an origin story of his own with a prequel of sorts to all the other silver screen tales with Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood.
I would think that not knowing all of the details makes some things more fun. At least it is for me. The general movie going audience however, seems to think differently. Everyone is getting backstories in movies lately even when there’s already plenty of lore behind them. Whether it be Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Michael Meyers or even Hannibal Lecter, some things are better left to the imagination if they aren’t already spelled out for us from multiple outings.
Comic book superheroes are another part of the tradition in Hollywood delivering origin stories, the difference being a thing of necessity. In order for sequels to work you do need to know how Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, came to be. When it comes to a historical figure such as Robin Hood, he is such an iconic piece of global lore that is a back story really necessary? Really?
And if it’s necessary why does writer Brian Helgeland need to fill it with so much expository and cliché ridden dialogue. Let alone the fact that the script also contains way too many spit-riddled episodes of longwinded monologues in-between Ridley Scott’s never-ending shots of forests filled with trees or the English countryside. It’s Robin Hood, we get it; it’s supposed to be epic. But just because your film runs 140 minutes doesn’t mean it’s as epic as you think it is. What it turns out to be is epically boring.
The story at least remains the same. Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is fighting alongside King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) in England at the turn of the 12th century. Also keeping up the good fight is Robin’s soon-to-be band of merry men including Little John (Lost’s Kevin Durand). After King Richard is killed and Robin and his men are let loose from the stocks Robin devises a plan to stowaway aboard the king’s ship taking the place of Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge) who was killed at the hand of Godfrey (Sherlock Holmes’ Mark Strong).
Prince John (Oscar Isaac) steps in to fill the king’s shoes with his fresh French wifey Isabella of Angoulême (Inglourious Basterds’ Léa Seydoux) at his side. What Prince John doesn’t know is that Godfrey may be his right hand man but has ulterior motives and is using the new king’s trust to sneaks troops into France to try to take over England.
Meanwhile, Robin returns Robert’s sword to his father, Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow) who wants to restore a sense of order in their fair Nottingham and asks Robin to join him in a ruse to take Robert’s place complete with becoming instant husband to Marion (Cate Blanchett). Marion doesn’t like this but of course the two are going to fall in love and Robin will start stealing from the rich to give to the poor and the Sheriff (Matthew Macfayden) tries to show us how slimy the sheriff is but Macfayden just makes you pine for the great Alan Rickman.
Will Robin save the day and manage to become the outlaw we all know and love? Why does Nottingham get turned into Auschwitz? Why does the film suddenly turn into Braveheart, wait, now it’s Troy… oh wait, now it’s Saving Private Ryan? How thunderous and ominous can the score get before something finally happens? Yes, this seems to be the Twilight version of Robin Hood complete with lots of yammering on while absolutely nothing happens feeding us lots of “characterization” that we don’t need because we’ve known it since at least 1938 when Michael Curtiz and William Keighley gave us their much better big screen adaptation.
As for the character of Robin Hood himself, if you are going the route of prequel, why cast someone closing in on 50-years-old? Also, don’t make all your advertising look like it’s Gladiator 2. While that movie may have won lots of Oscars back in its day somehow including Best Picture, this still shows just how mediocre Ridley Scott’s direction can be. One piece of new story they use shows us a tablet with an inscription that means “never give up.” I suppose the same advice can be true for Hollywood. Because when the version you just paid money for makes you wish you were home watching Robin Hood: Men in Tights you walk out thinking, “Better luck next time.”