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Review: ‘Robin Hood’

No Merry Men in This Forest

Russell Crowe stars as

Credit: Universal

Above: Russell Crowe stars as "Robin Hood" in this latest retelling of the classic legend of the outlaw and his Merry Men.

Maybe “Robin Hood” (opening May 14 throughout San Diego) looked good on paper. Reuniting director Ridley Scott with his star Russell Crowe in order to retell the classic legend of Robin Hood does have a certain appeal… on paper.

The “Robin Hood” we get from Scott and Crowe is neither rollicking fun nor clever re-imagining. We get a lengthy written prologue setting up the political and social backdrop from which an outlaw hero like Robin could emerge. There’s fighting going on in far off lands, taxation, a nearly bankrupt government… hmm? Sound familiar? Well any attempt to tie events from the 12th century to contemporary events are pretty much ignored, although Scott does try to ground the legend in a more gritty reality than previous films have tried. But you have to ask, to what effect is he doing this?

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Universal

Ridley Scott revisits the Robin Hood legend in his new film.

Scott’s “Robin Hood” still wants to have action and adventure. It still wants to be entertaining. So the occasional nod to historical accuracy is too casual to make the film special in that respect. Richard Lester (who was reputed to be a history buff) did a far better job of bringing historical realities to his period films in a manner that enhanced the films. So in Lester’s “Robin and Marian,” which looked to the final years of the famous couple, the director used the more accurate broadswords of the time rather than the rapiers of Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood. This meant that combatants were not able to fence with speed and grace but rather had to use all their strength to life the heavy broad sword for a single blow and then they’d have to retreat to prepare to lift the awkward weapon again. So the more realistic weaponry changed the way Lester told the story and made it all the more clear how an older Robin couldn’t continue in his previous merry ways.

Scott adds a grimmer sense of what 12th century life was like but to no real effect except to make the film visually dreary. Scott also tries to get behind the legend, as if he’s trying to do a “60 Minutes” expose on who the real Robin Hood was. So much of what audiences are familiar with about Robin has been changed but without improvement. Plus Scott doesn’t entirely want to let go of making an action film. He still wants battles and swordplay and blowing things up (yes, it may be the 12th century but Scott has found a way to still have explosions).

Scott who managed the action and drama so well in "Gladiator" (which won Crowe an Oscar) doesn't find his groove here. This is an action film that nearly put me to sleep. The villains -- a spineless King John (Oscar Issac) and a brooding Godfrey (the apparent number one go to bad guy Mark Strong) -- prove meager rivals and not very interesting. Humor fails for the most part in the film as well with King John getting a couple funny bits in but that's about it. At one point, though, I couldn't tell if Scott was going for deliberate or accidental humor. There's a scene where the king's men try to pass through the forest and Robin uses the famous line from Monty Python's Black Knight: "None shall pass." Chuckles rang out from the scattered folks and I was waiting for a sword fight and a few flesh wounds to follow. But alas, the line stood alone and was never joined by further Pythonesque gags.

I don’t think this is giving away anything but the film ends with a title card that states: “So the legend begins.” So you leave thinking this was some lengthy prologue to a film that’s yet to come. Like “Robin Hood Origins.” But Crowe is such an old Robin that to imagine this is only the beginning is hard to buy into. To be forty-something in the 12th century was to be quite old so Crowe would be more credible as the outlaw hero if he were younger.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Universal

Cate Blanchett and Russell Crowe play Marion and Robin in Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood"

There’s a meager attempt to refresh the Robin and Marion (played here by Cate Blanchett) romance. But there aren’t any sparks between Crowe and Blanchett, and the writing for their scenes prove bland and uninspired. We get the predictable early antagonism; the attempted clever banter, insults, and sexual innuendo; the change of heart; and finally the long delayed kiss. There are no surprises here and the clichés are not played with any fun or gusto so the romance, like the film, proves dull.

The best thing in the film is the animated end credit sequence. The bold colors and dynamic sense of movement were more interesting than anything I saw in the movie. For me, the quintessential Robin is still Errol Flynn from the 1938 “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” He was dashing, witty, athletic, heroic and with a dash of self-deprecation. And following closely on his heels is Sean Connery from Richard Lester’s “Robin and Marion.” Crowe, on the other, hand never makes the role his own. He’s not sure if he should be having fun or playing it somber and straight. The result is a most unengaging Robin. Although he’s far better than the dreadful Kevin Costner. (Although Costner’s Robin did get to lock swords with the wickedly funny Alan Rickman.)

“Robin Hood” (rated PG-13 for violence including intense sequences of warfare, and some sexual content) is a disappointment. Scott and Crowe have worked well in the past but they seem completely uninspired in tackling this classic tale.

Companion viewing: “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “Robin and Marian,” “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”

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