I’ve loved the Robin Hood story since I was a little kid. Disney’s version was, and still is, a masterpiece. It may be a cartoon, but the citizens of Nottingham’s poverty and plight was handled unbelievably well. Genuine melancholy permeates the movie. I’ve never seen another animated film come close to that kind of sustained emotional achievement. And the voices for most of those characters were perfect. Truly exceptional. No exaggeration: Disney’s Robin Hood is one of my favorite movies of all time.
Prince of Thieves and Men In Tights both fanned the flames. Each hit my age group at just the right time. I still enjoy Prince of Thieves when I can catch it, although I’ve been unable to watch Men in Tights since the Wayans Brothers decided to torture and murder the concept of parody. The point is, Robin Hood has a special place in my heart. Even at a young age, I was drawn to the medieval genre. Talk about foreshadowing! Who could’ve known I’d be pushing 30 and still daydreaming about swordplay? When I find something good, I really stick with it (Go Chiefs!).
Unfortunately, this newest version failed to live up to any of its predecessors. It’s a damn shame too, because the pieces were in place for it to be pretty good. Lord knows I love Cate Blanchett (more on her later). And Ridley Scott is by no means my favorite director, but he’s certainly capable of doing good work. He’s done it many times in the past. Given the casting of Russell Crowe, it seemed reasonable to expect a movie of Gladiator-like quality.
What worried me was another potential comp from Scott’s body of work: Kingdom of Heaven. Otherwise known as the movie which taught me that no, Orlando Bloom wasn’t actually a good actor. Kingdom of Heaven was the last time I was really excited for a Ridley Scott joint. “A movie about the crusades, starring Orlando Bloom and Liam Neeson, from the guy responsible for Gladiator, Legend and Blade Runner?” I thought. “This is gonna be awesome!” Kingdom of Heaven, as anyone who has seen it knows, is far from awesome. In fact, it was one of the biggest letdowns I can remember. I was definitely leery of falling into the same trap with Robin Hood. But I was excited as well. Life is so full of possibility!
We’ll start with the good:
1) Cate Blanchett
2) Max Von Sydow (!)
And now the bad:
1) everything other than Cate Blanchett and Max Von Sidow
Russel Crowe was fine too I guess, but I’m really not that interested in him anymore. A manly voice and a hard stare only gets you so far with me. Crowe’s acting is really pretty average. For one thing, his accent sounded Scottish. It wasn’t ridiculous and it didn’t affect the movie, but it’s definitely there. Other than that, Crowe was fine. Or anyway, he was the least of my worries.
My worries. Where to begin? There were filmmaking gaffes all over the place. For one thing, there are far too many factions of both good guys and bad guys. The movie tries to do way too much. There’s Robin and his buddies (who I actually sort of liked), King Richard the Lion-Heart, Prince John, Prince John’s mother, Prince John’s friend/betrayer Godfrey, the King of France, Princess Isabella, the Church, William Marshall (William Hurt), the northern barons, The sheriff of Nottingham, Maid Marion and her aged father-in-law, and some sort of ragged “lost boys” style forest gang. All of these are separate agents with separate agendas. Many are completely useless to the plot.
There are several villains, most of whom aren’t in league with one another. The King of France is planning to invade England, but you hardly ever actually see him. He works mainly through his agent, Godfrey, who betrays Prince John…….who is also a bad guy. He moonlights as comic relief, but the guy is pretty clearly a villain. Then of course there’s the sheriff of Nottingham, who in this version has been reduced to an ineffectual, leering pervert. The guy who played the creepy priest in The Golden Compass is back for another turn as a creepy priest. The Church won’t give the people grain. So he’s bad. The lost boys steal from Marion and creep around the forest, which is bad. But at heart they’re……good? And King Richard, he’s good. But then he arrests Robin and his men and puts them in shackles. So that’s bad.
This plot is a fucking mess. The script was obviously redone a few too many times by a few too many people. You can read the gruesome details on the wikepedia page, but suffice it to say that by the time this thing hit the silver screen it didn’t have a chance. Because of my policy of not reading about movies before I see them, I didn’t know about any of this until after I’d seen the movie. But it sure explained a lot. There is obviously plenty of detritus from the past scripts. Junk all over the place. I can’t recall ever seeing a story so cluttered.
I tried to just sit back and enjoy the medieval aesthetic, but even that was impossible. There was always something stupid happening to distract me. Slow close-ups on characters with no lines. Bad fake scars all over the place. A ridiculous plot twist involving Robin’s past thrown in at about the 2 hour 15 minute marker. And weird, bad actors littering every scene. It was like there were too many people and nobody knew where to stand. Every once in a while someone would look or sound so out-of-place I’d laugh out loud.
I did get to see some friendly faces, so I guess that’s something. William Hurt, Von Sydow, the guy who played Malarkey in Band of Brothers. And Kevin Durand has certainly become a familiar face to people seeing a certain kind of bad movie. When I saw him I was like, “We meet again, Mr. Durand.” And you know I was pleased to see Robert Pugh. The last time I saw him on the silver screen was at a Last Legion hang in St. Louis with my boy the Gentlemen Ghost. So yeah, I was ready to get Pughed.
The one legitimate positive in this stinker was Cate Blanchett. For my money she’s about the best actress goin’ right now. Consistently good in a variety of roles, some fairly challenging. I love watching her work. This role forces her into some pretty lame clichés, like telling Russel Crowe that if he touches her she’ll “cut off his manhood”, or showing up to the last battle disguised as a knight a la Eowyn from LOTR. I felt bad to see her wasted like that, but ultimately she overcomes. There were several scenes that induced a mental tip-of-the-stoney-cap.
Blanchett is an incredible actress, but that’s only part of what makes her great. What makes her truly unique is her look. And no, this isn’t going to turn into some fanboy description of how beautiful she is, because it isn’t that. Her physical attractiveness, however you rate it, is beside the point. Her look is unique because it always seems right for the part. In any period piece, she can fit in. More than fit in, she can look like she was meant for it. The fact that she’s skinny and in her forties doesn’t hurt; it helps. When watching her, I find myself thinking that yes, this is what Maid Marion/Lady Galadriel/Katharine Hepburn/Queen Elizabeth I/Bob Dylan could have actually looked like. I mean the woman played a character from the time she was twenty to the time she was seventy in Benjamin Button and she pulled every age off. A truly rare gift.
Unfortunately, Robin Hood isn’t a rare gift. It’s a $13, three-hour mess. Gifts of that nature have become all too common, it seems. On the plus side, there will almost definitely be a sequel! By then movie tickets will be $15. Someone’s got to take a stand. I can’t just sit around waiting for that AARP card.
next up: MacGruber. This one could very well make some noise at the SFC awards ceremony at years end. What should I call those?