Director Ridley Scott took many twists and turns with his Robin Hood project. Originally starting out as being told from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s perspective the script eventually settled on being a straight re-telling of the origins of the outlaw who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. All the main facts about the story are in the movie, but after a fantastic opening of the story and characters the film seems to go devolves into a series of schizophrenic vignettes detailing several characters, never knowing what type of project it is and who is fighting who.
Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is a lowly archer who gains a boost in status when he dons the name of a dying man, Robin of Locksley. Upon returning home to give the crown of dead king to the new ruler of England, King John (Oscar Isaac), Robin goes to the small village of Nottingham where he is adopted by Locksley’s father and widow Marian (Cate Blanchett). As King John becomes bolder and imposes harsh taxes on his people, his second-in-command Godfrey (Mark Strong) secretly plans a French invasion. Eventually Robin is forced to become the outlaw of legend and prevent the French from taking over England, and impose the Magna Carta into law.
The set-up of Robin Hood is the best. Starting off with an epic siege the movie takes its time to set up the story of Robin Longstride and what the Crusades have done to these men. Led by the drunken Richard the Lionheart the first hour sets up how Robin compiled his merry men and the type of England that is left behind after ten years of the country’s men being at battle. England is a mess politically and the film explores how the characters have become who they are. The battle in the opening is great filled with carnage and chaos, the classic Ridley Scott battles scenes and the first half expertly weaves the story of Robin, King John and Godfrey in a way that doesn’t last long. The final battle is also equally epic, culminating with the French and English fighting in water with arrows flying and soldiers coming left and right. This is a fantastic movie to see in theaters because you get the full expanse of the scenery and the sweeping vista shots of the English countryside are simply breathtaking. At times this feels like a travelogue of England in the medieval time period and while that might not be what you’re looking for in something like Robin Hood, it does enhance the tone of the film.
Russell Crowe definitely gives 110% with this role and deserves all the acclaim for holding this movie together. Crowe’s Robin Hood is equal parts cocky, heroic and romantic all in one making him a guy’s guy and a girl’s guy. His scenes with the Merry Men are the most humorous as they have amazing chemistry and his back and forth dialogues with Marian are razor sharp. Cate Blanchett is a strong, confident heroine as Maid Marian although she tends to fall back on some of the same traits from her turn as Queen Elizabeth but that just makes her more majestic. Mark Strong continues to play the villain with aplomb as the evil Godfrey while Oscar Isaac and Matthew Macfadyn are equally maniacal as King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. The Merry Men played by Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes and Alan Doyle provide the humor and Eileen Atkins steals every scene she has as the vastly underused Eleanor of Aquitaine.
At the hour mark is when the film goes off the rails because it doesn’t know how to divide time equally amongst the characters. The entire middle of the film develops Robin and Marian’s romance and Robin’s time in Nottingham, while splicing in individual scenes of the Merry Men, King John and Godfrey’s time with the French. This disjointed nature brings the film to a grinding halt and once everyone comes together it’s hard to figure out who’s fighting over what and with whom. The Sheriff of Nottingham is wasted and it’s hard to figure out what his purpose is, the same can be said with the ridiculous character of Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) who is merely the town beekeeper? There’s also a subplot involving Nottingham’s feral children that is beyond stupid. For starters they show up throughout the movie with no explanation, merely looking like outcasts from Peter Pan, and the only explanation about them is a throwaway line from Marian that if you miss you’ll never hear again. This culminates with using these children in a massive battle yet having them look like grown men! The movie also has trouble establishing who is the villain, whether it’s King John or Godfrey. One could say its Godfrey because his villainy leads to an epic fight at the end, but they flip back and forth it’s hard to say.
In the end it almost seems as if Ridley Scott did some last-minute editing and cut the movie. Robin Hood starts with a bang and ends up being a bloated mess with too many cooks in the kitchen and no set destination in mind. The movie has the audacity to end with a blatant “Hey we might have a sequel” type ending so who knows if a second go-round with Robin will work out better. It’s a fantastic, real-life origin story of Robin Hood…had it decided to focus on Robin and not worry about giving everyone else equal time or lack thereof.