Movie review: Robin Hood

Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe's prequel ditches all that was fun about the legend

Movie review: Robin Hood

Cert: 12A, 141 mins

Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett

This Robin Hood, Ridley Scott reliably informed us, would be different. It wouldn’t be Men in Remarkably Green Tights. It wouldn’t be a cartoon version. There would be no Kevin Costner battling pantomime villains and a witch with costume eye-balls. This was back-to-basics Hood. The real Hood. The gritty Hood. We won’t, he puffed, have seen a outlaw like this before.

And to be fair, Scott‘s not wrong. Because with Scott and Russell Crowe‘s Hood – the Gladiator pair’s fifth collaboration – he’s not even an outlaw at all.

This is an origins tale – Hood before the hood, if you will – that ditches pretty much everything people like about the Robin Hood legend.

Ridley Scott doesn’t deal in the traditional skirmishes and forest traps we associate with the tales. There is no rag-tag band of men. There are armies of them. There are wars. Big shields. Castles on fire. Enough archers so their arrows block the sun. And no-one, but no-one, is merry.

We begin in a battle and end on one. In the first, Crowe‘s Robin Longstride is fighting in Richard the Lionheart‘s Crusades, bravely battling back to England by way of pillaging all the scenery and castles in sight. The second comes when Robin – now Robin of Loxley, having taken on a dead man’s identity, yet still remaining personality-free – helps England to victory against the French.

Both are spectacular. This being Ridley Scott, they were never likely to be dull. But they’re curiously devoid of import.

The traditional Robin Hood story – the outlaws against the evil, oppressive king, stealing from the rich and giving to the muddy – is a simple but effective one. So why make Robin Hood: The Early Years? Sure, the story here is slightly more complex. The good king (Richard, played by Danny Huston) dies early on, leaving his brother King John (Oscar Isaac) to be the mean one, raising taxes and his right eyebrow in equal measure. Which he does – until he doesn’t. Technically, this forms the basis of the story – various people convincing the king not to be quite so mean. But then everything else seems to take so long – the initial battle, the French ransacking castles in the name of the king to put England on the path of civil war, Robin courting the widowed Maid Marian (Cate Blanchett), a rather pointless bit where Robin learns some things about his father – it’s hard to tell what the basis of the story is.

The result of this is when it comes to an early climax which is presumably meant to be stirring – Crowe’s Hood, sporting an accent that takes a tour of Great Britain and parts of Ireland too, doesn’t stand before an army and talk of fighting for life, love and liberty. He stands before folk disgruntled with taxation and talks of lower taxes and legal game hunting. It’s not so much a battle cry as a campaign speech.

Everything here feels like a set-up to a sequel. The kids who live in Sherwood Forest are glimpsed, but for no real reason. Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) waddles about, but for no real reason. The Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen) does… not a lot. Little John is suitably large.

Robin Hood ends the film, finally, as an outlaw. Finally, in fact, as Robin Hood. The next film would be a more obvious take, no doubt. But you can’t help think, that’s the one you’d rather watch.

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