Like most people, my favorite Robin Hood movie is the 1938 film with Errol Flynn playing the titular character. Flynn seemed to so effortlessly fit the role that a lot of people don't even think that what he did took talent. I break people who think that down into three groups: dorks, morons, and dorkily moronic douchebags. A close second in the rankings for best Robin Hood film is the 1976 Richard Lester directed Robin and Marian. This movie could really be described as a sequel to Errol Flynn's version. Sean Connery plays Robin this time. He and Little John went off with Richard the Lionheart to fight in the Crusades and return after Richard dies 20 years later to find that things are just as bad now as they were when he was young and battling the Sheriff of Nottingham with his Merry Men. Marian has become a nun and he must fight not only evildoers who oppress the poor but also Marian's reluctance to rekindle their old love.
The reason I'm talking so much about those movies is because those are good movies and the brand spanking new Ridley Scott directed/Russel Crowe starring version is not. I like Ridley Scott. I like Russell Crowe. I like screenwriter Brian Helgeland. Knowing all three of those guys were involved made me keep faith in the film even when lackluster trailers for it were being released earlier in the year. I did not walk into the multiplex last Friday expecting this film to be oh so very dull. The rule here seems to be "Why make scenes 2 minutes long when they can be 10 minutes long?" People talk and talk and talk again and talk some more for no specific purpose other than to give people a chance to overact.
This movie's a bit closer to the Sean Connery film than to Errol Flynn. It starts as King Richard is leading his army home from the Crusade to topple the Muslim government there. For some reason, God chose not to allow them to force the Muslims to love Jesus which means they're coming home without much to show for it and must plunder a few castles along the way. For some reason, the centuries-long legend of Robin being a disillusioned nobleman wasn't good enough for the makers of this film who decided to try and inject as much historical accuracy as possible* into a story about a guy who probably didn't even exist. Robin is now an archer in Richard's army, highly competent and brave but a commoner nonetheless. On a night when Richard decides to walk amongst his troops, Robin makes the mistake of believing him when Richard says he wants him to be honest and winds up in the stocks along with three of his comrades, all of whom have the names of Robin Hood's legendary comrades. Coincidence? I don't want to put in too many spoilers.
Back in England, Richard's selfish and incompetent brother John is in charge while Richard is gone and, in that time, has selfishly and incompetently run the kingdom into the ground. The movie tries to cut him some slack by pointing out that Richard's war is what bankrupted the country and having a French double agent named Godfrey (Mark Strong) manipulate him into raising revenue in the most brutal way possible in order to turn the populace against John and make England ripe for an invasion by Philip II of France. He's very annoyed with John ever since John kidnapped and married Philip's sister, Isabella. Interesting footnote: this actually happened though the girl playing her in the movie is 24 year old actress Léa Seydoux and the real Isabella was only 12. If you're annoyed that they aged the object of King John's sexual obsession for the movie, please do society a favor and write the word "Pedophile" on your forehead. Moving on.
Robin and his comrades come upon Godfrey ambushing the men responsible for bringing Richard's crown back to England but are unable to save them. That doesn't stop them from putting on their clothes and pretending to be them so they can return to England in style. He did promise one of them men who died that he would return the dead man's sword to his father in Nottingham which is how they all wound up there and, from there, met Marian (Cate Blanchett) and ended up becoming a band of famous populist outlaws.**
All that has taken a while to read but, trust me, it took way longer to watch and the movie wasn't even over. It took more than 90 minutes for Robin to do his first bit of "rob from the rich and give to the poor" and, come to think of it, that may have been the only time as the rest of the damn movie was spent fighting for King John against the French instead of against him.
I had no problem with casting Crowe and Blanchett as Robin and Marian. I imagine Ridley Scott must have had many meetings with studio heads not to cast Robert Pattinson and Keira Knightley in those roles in order to appeal to a younger crowd. It's just too bad all that effort went into making such a boring movie. The plot was boring, the action was boring and the villains were boring. I honestly can't see why people keep casting Mark Strong as the bad guy in their movies. This is the third movie in six months in which he's played an uninteresting villain. The best Robin Hood villain was Robert Shaw's Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin and Marian. He was an actual three dimensional character, unlike pretty much every character in this movie. Oh, there I go, talking about better movies again.
The last time Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe teamed up, the result was Gladiator. That, too, was dull though not as dull as this one but it won the Best Picture Oscar. Perhaps they thought if they made an even more boring movie this time around it would somehow win 2 Best Picture Oscars. Looks like they got the movie they wanted. Good luck come Oscar time.
* This includes the artistic decision to make everything and everyone look like they're covered in shit.
** Or perhaps I should say "outLAWWWWWWS".