The Review: When a movie has a gestation period as long and as volatile as this one, you start to wonder if it will ever make it to the big screen. (Or indeed, if they should bother. More on that in a moment.) Several different cast members were worked through, but the driving force always seems to be that Russell and Ridley have a good laugh doing things together, and thought a new take on Robin Hood might be worth a punt. Rumours of several other possible concepts kept appearing, including one where Crowe would play Robin and the Sheriff of Nottingham, possibly in a dual identity scenario.
What we end up with is a movie whose title card makes it clear (and whose trailer has massively spoiled, but it’s not a huge surprise when all’s said and done) that what we’re getting is the story of how Robin became Robin. The largest single problem with that idea is that, unlike Batman where screen origin stories hadn’t really been explored, the Robin Hood story is almost always an origin story – from Errol Flynn to Kevin Costner, most of the major tellings of the story clearly show how events come to pass. So in an effort to be different, what we get is not how Robin of Loxley became Hood, it’s how Robin Longstride (eh?) took on the role. There are actually two major common versions of the legend, the well known rich versus poor scenario but also one where Robin fights for the English against the Normans, and this looks to incorporate elements of both.
So it all starts well enough – Richard the Lionheart is on the way back from the Crusade trail, and we are introduced to most of the main players, in and around the siege and battery of a French fortress. The action here is clear and well done, and probably most interesting thing Ridley Scott’s done visually since Gladiator. Then crucial characters to the myth start getting bumped off, so Longstride has to wade in to fill in – and the narrative then starts taking audacious leaps of logic to maintain that pretence. And as things progress, it gets increasingly silly. There are well documented problems with the accents – not around them not being East Midlands (as it’s made clear this Robin’s not from Nottingham, and Loxley and his father speak without regional accent anyway), more that while the movie stands still for long stretches, the accents don’t – people seem to be from different locations in different scenes. And when Mark Addy’s Friar Tuck is so consistent, it puts everyone else into sharp relief. But after the opening action, while there’s some action, there’s not very much. While there’s some fun and banter, there’s not very much. And while there’s some drama, there’s… actually, there’s an awful lot of that, but none of it really that engaging.
And by the third act, despite the best acting efforts of the likes of Max Von Sydow and William Hurt, doing what the likes of Richard Harris and Derek Jacobi did for Gladiator, any sense of believability, even within the confines of the story itself (never mind in relation to the actual myth) has long since saddled up its horse and ridden into the forest to hide. With a finale that seems to cast almost everyone as a complete idiot in terms of battle strategy, not to mention that it’s simply being Saving Private Norman, the movie pretty much ends where it could and should have done, but for the need for a coda which, in just two or three minutes, shuffles the pieces round to leave us with the approximate cast of characters in the expected places for a Hood movie. So should they have bothered? Given how almost every other version of the story, and even the daft ideas tossed out in the script stage, was more interesting than this one, I’m going to go with probably not.
Why see it at the cinema: For the opening siege on the French castle, and for the epic vistas matching real current locations like York Minster and the Tower of London into the 12th century backdrops. But not if you want to see a proper Robin Hood movie, sadly.
The Score: 4/10