Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott reteam for their fifth film together, Robin Hood. Crowe plays the titular hero in Hollywood’s umpteenth retelling of the tale. This time out the story is a prequel of sorts, taking place before Robin Longstride makes the transition to “Robin Hood.” As the film opens, Robin is an archer under Richard The Lionheart (Danny Huston) during the Crusades. When King Richard is killed in battle, Robin returns to Britain with the news and then proceeds to the town of Nottingham to fulfill the dying wish of a fellow soldier: to return the knight’s sword to his father. Upon arrival (with what will become his “band of merry men” in tow) he discovers that the small village has fallen on hard times. Confiscatory taxes have been levied during his absence in order to fund Richard The Lionheart’s Crusades. And the king’s successor, Prince John, (Oscar Isaac) has only made matters worse.
The film aims to be a swashbuckler of the good ol’ fashion variety. Unfortunately, you will leave the theater with your “buckle” no more nore less “swashed” as it was upon arrival. All the elements are there: swords, bows and arrows, men storming castles, other men pouring boiling oil on them from above. (Which begs the question: how long before a surprise attack should one begin to boil the oil?) Sadly the film gets bogged down in its own machinations. The filmmakers spend so much time moving the chess pieces around that board that they forget the reason people love Robin Hood movies is for their sense of adventure.
The script is entirely without wit or charm. Crowe is given little to work with and he provides even less. The dialog drifts into a fake Shakespearian flourish that too often obfuscates plot points making the proceedings difficult to follow. Robin Hood and Maid Marion (Cate Blanchett) go through the obligatory “will they or won’t they” dance which seems an odd tack given that we all know they will. The film’s action scenes feel perfunctory. The sequences are well staged but bring nothing new to the genre. And they feel particularly rudimentary given some of the films on Ridley Scott’s resume (Blade Runner, Alien, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator).
The film is decidedly apolitical; never really settling on whether Robin Hood is a Tea Party populist or a hippie socialist looking to redistribute wealth. I don’t know what side of the equation they might have landed on if forced to choose (though I can certainly guess) but either choice would’ve made for a more interesting film. Instead we get an allegedly rousing, though politically vague, speech (ala Braveheart) in which I was surprised to learn that Robin Hood invented both democracy AND the Lincoln/Douglas style of debate while simultaneously coining the phrase “a man’s home is his castle.”
With Robin’s band of merry men relegated to a footnote and Friar Tuck not faring much better, Robin Hood is drab bit of drudgery that slogs to the finish line. The film is so singularly focused on setting up a sequel that would (presumably) be a true Robin Hood film that it forgets to entertain us. The end result is a two hour and twenty minute movie that feels entirely like a prologue.