With their updated take on the Robin Hood legend, director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe may have created this summer’s “Sahara." While it may be early for such harsh assessments, the film’s $237 million budget makes such failure a distinct possibility.
“Robin Hood” probably needs to be number one at the box office not only its opening weekend, but in several subsequent weekends to break even. And while typical blockbusters regularly meet such expectations, “Robin Hood” isn’t typical blockbuster stuff; or maybe it is. Either way, there’s a real danger that word-of-mouth and ever-pervasive internet buzz will kill this film before it reaches profitability. And very quickly. Problem is, for all of its lavish production values and expansive visuals, “Robin Hood” isn’t very entertaining.
I take no exception with the performances; Russell Crowe is as compelling as ever and Cate Blanchett gives a typically dignified, alluring performance. With one minor exception, the supporting players are adequate, as well. “Robin Hood’s” built on a worthwhile premise, too. The story is a prequel to the traditional Robin Hood legend, allowing us to meet Robin Longstride well before any previous film adaptation. The problem starts with a script that’s badly lacking in character development. There’s no joy here either. This “Robin Hood” is all melancholy and gloom, without a hint of Robin’s previous swashbuckling escapades. That’s simply not the Robin we expect.
Moreover, Crowe’s character here is more akin to his character from 2000’s “Gladiator” than from anything ever seen in a “Robin Hood” film. That Spartacus-derived character, although compelling, has little place in this world. Similarly, Blanchett’s Maid Marion has more in common with her character from “Elizabeth” than with the Marion of legend; again, not a particularly good fit. This film also shares a deep thematic vibe with 1995’s “Braveheart”—certainly not the stuff of Robin Hood and his merry men.
“Robin Hood” opens in the late 12th century in the Third Crusade. Robin Longstride and his companions are everyday archers in the army of King Richard the Lionheart. When Richard is killed in battle, Robin and his men decide to return home, not seeing further financial benefit to remaining in the English Army. They are diverted on their way by English traitor Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong), who, on the order of the French King, leads an ambush on Richard’s train, unaware that Richard’s already dead. Robin and his men stumble upon Godfrey’s ambush and drive him away. Afterwards, Robin meets Sir Robert Loxley, a dying knight who was part of Richard’s contingent. Robin hesitantly grants Loxley’s dying wish that his family sword be returned to his wife and blind father in Nottingham.
Robin’s men accompany him to Nottingham and there he meets Loxley’s father, Walter (Max Von Sydow), and the formidable Marion, Loxley’s widow. Walter takes an instant shine to Robin—so much so that he fraudulently declares Robin to be his son Robert, victoriously returned from war. That declaration not only makes Robin Walter’s heir, but also Marion’s husband. Needless to say, Marion’s none too pleased. That changes throughout the film’s course, but by the time Robin and Marion share their obligatory screen kiss and exchange “I love yous,” I’d long since stopped caring.
“Robin Hood’s” workable plot is ultimately overwhelmed and sabotaged by battle sequences that are both pervasive and intrusive. To be sure, those sequences ring with authenticity, but add nothing to the film’s overall resonance. They play more like interludes meant to bridge the story structure above with the film’s historical authenticity and to add the requisite dose of summer action.
Only in the closing moments, well after John, Richard’s malevolent brother, has assumed the thrown; after Robin and his men have again gone to war—this time on John’s behalf—do we glimpse the Robin Hood we know. Robin serves King John well on the battlefield, helping the young king maintain his throne, but John repays him by declaring Robin an outlaw. Moreover, John also reneges on his promise to the English people to sign the Magna Carta, fueling public hatred for John and public sympathy for Robin Hood.
Supposedly, if “Robin Hood” turns a satisfactory profit, there will be a sequel. I should think Scott and Crowe have sufficient clout to push a sequel through regardless of the numbers. Certainly, if “Robin Hood” does indeed bomb, that sequel would be significantly scaled back; however, that might prove an advantage. A significant stripping of these battle sequences and enhanced focus on dialogue, characterization and humor—enhanced focus on story—would only make a sequel stronger. Such a sequel might be forced, then, to bring this character closer to his swashbuckling roots, making the film, potentially, immanently more watchable.
Conversely, this first film amounts to a $237-million pretty picture that may find limited appeal among hardcore history buffs; general audiences, though, will likely leave the theater underwhelmed.