Reel Shorts | Robin Hood

14 05 2010

by Kam Williams

Ridley Scott’s latest film, “Robin Hood” at it’s core is one huge tease. Guest critic, Brandon Fibbs of the Colorado Springs Gazette takes a look at the fractured medievel epic with mixed results.

Robin Hood opens with a series of olde tyme title cards, the sort you’d see in the Errol Flynn version of the story. This thoughtful esthetic throwback, occurring in the first seconds of the film, is where the similarities with this story, and any other bearing its name, end. Though it is not being touted as such, Robin Hood is actually a prequel to any versions that have gone before it. It is, in comic book parlance, an origin story—a tale to fill in the blanks in a heroic character’s resume and reveal what defining events transformed them into legend. When origin stories work, it is because the tale they tell is equal to the hero they produce. When they do not, as in Robin Hood, it is often because their narrative is dull, lack-luster, unimaginative, hardly the sort of vaulted history from whose loins spring the stuff of fairy tale and myth.

Russell Crowe, in his fifth collaboration with director Ridley Scott, plays Robin Longstride, an archer of no particular renown in the army of Richard the Lionheart, the king of England, long away from his capital so he might slaughter Saracens in Jerusalem during the Crusades. When the king is mortally wounded on the battlefield, chance and a case of mistaken identity ensure it falls to Robin and his comrades to deliver the tragic news back to London, where the narcissistic and petty Prince John now warms the throne. When John uses his brother’s death as a means to seize power and squeeze his already overtaxed people of their remaining livelihood, Robin and other nobles rise up against him. But unbeknownst to them, their common enemy, France, has plans to exploit their civil strife and land an invasion force.

Ridley Scott’s films are all starting to bleed together. While I respect and appreciate his creative predilections, particularly those time-traveling stories involving ancient Rome (“Gladiator”), the Crusades (“Kingdom of Heaven”) or dystopic futures (“Alien” and “Blade Runner”), I confess I am tiring of his oeuvre. It has become worn out and familiar. Each film is something of a copy of the last. While great themes linking a filmmaker’s work is hardly new and often praiseworthy, Scott is like a scratched record, doomed, it seems, to repeat himself time and again.

In Robin Hood, Scott has turned a familiar tale, mostly confined to small patches of rural England, into an excuse to stage the clash of great armies across several countries. While there is some gorgeous sweep here (much of which blessedly does not rely on CGI), Robin Hood is full of Scott’s usual indecipherable battles (including one that can only be dubbed “Saving Private Robin Hood”) but very little of the moral elevation signifying much of his recent work. Instead, Robin Hood arrives on screens with unintended political subtext. Robin’s battle against a tyrant leader intent on taxing his people to death while ignoring the threats of foreign aggressors will have contemporary relevance for some. Forget Sarah Palin, Robin Hood is the true vanguard of the modern Tea Party movement.

Moments of illumination and playfulness must share the screen with caricature and banality. Lines of vaulted, almost Shakespearian prose must share the same script as clichéd monologues like, “He knows too much. Get rid of him.” Robin Hood, a quintessentially British story, has very few British actors in it, preferring instead to populate 16th century England with Australians, Swedes, Americans, Canadians and even Guatemalans. One of those Aussies, Cate Blanchett, plays Maid Marion, who appears interesting and worthy of our attention, but is an investment we are never given the opportunity to make. So it is that when, in the film’s climax, Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland decide to use Marion as a figure of female empowerment, the scene not only backfires, it invites disdainful laughter at just the moment there should be exultant celebration.

The movie you and I want to see actually starts just as the credits begin to roll and the theater lights come up. The familiar but beloved tale of a rogue who lives in the forest and steals from the rich to give to the poor begins at the two hour and 20 minute mark, but it will have to play out in our memories of far superior adaptations. Kind of makes you wish you’d been nicer to Kevin Costner, huh?

Grade: C

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2 responses

15 05 2010
owentravell.com

The great topic, and very helpfully. thanks

15 05 2010
Tweets that mention Robin Hood Review « FilmGordon -- Topsy.com

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tim Gordon. Tim Gordon said: Ridley Scott's big tease, "Robin Hood" opens today. Guest critic Brandon Fibbs examines this medievel mishmash! http://wp.me/p9gAs-2Bn […]

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