When Errol Flynn rode up to the camera on horseback wearing a costume as green as a leprechauns trousers in 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood no one thought for one damn second, ‘You know, I think I need someone to take nearly three hours out of my life to explain how Robin Hood got to this point.” The green tights, the bow and arrow, that grin of invincibility, they made all the points that needed to be made. This is Robin Hood, he kicks ass, deal with it. Flash forward 72 years and enter Ridley Scott to hopelessly muddle up this bit of English folklore. Scott, along with his muse Russell Crowe, have conjured up a bloated, historical epic that takes great pains to etch out every little detail that may have created the Robin Hood legend. But despite all the Herculean effort of historical minutia being forced up onto the screen, never once does it any of it register as the least bit interesting.
Scott’s Robin Hood exist in that strange place of cinema in which most of it doesn’t feel quite right or wrong, it’s simply a steady stream of humdrum drama and an obsessive attention to historical detail that slowly feels like movie purgatory. Going through many scripts and story revisions on its way to the big screen, the final product lacks a strong arc and is saddled with a dubious purpose. The decision to pursue this as a prequel eliminates the trappings of a typical Robin Hood tale, fine, but in its place a tepid historical drama has been constructed, not fine. Those looking for the visceral thrills of Scott and Crowe’s Gladiator will be sorely disappointed. There’s virtually no action till the film’s anticlimactic finale. The epic scope of Scott’s other recent historical action piece, Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut, is also nowhere to be found. The only thing here is a boring collection of scene after scene in which nogoodniks scheme and plot while the Robin Hood character slowly positions himself into being declared a historical outlaw.
With no strong plot to compel the film forward stars Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett are left to try and hold the film up, but there’s no chance. Crowe is stuck playing a Robin Hood with little in the way of heroics to perform. One of Robin Hood’s more glaring bits of dumbness comes towards its third act when Robin Hood suddenly recalls that he’s the son of a noted rabble-rouser who wanted to inspire the meek to stand up and take power away from abusive tyrants. It’s a ridiculous bit of 11th hour character motivation that takes a movie which was slowly moving along its own track and starts to derail it. Blanchett is also trapped in a thankless part as the corporate mandated, post-feminist Maid Marion. There’s no imagination to the character here and turning her into a strong-willed woman of independent means flies in the face of the historical accuracy the movie seems to be so dead set on getting right. She too is saddled with a jump-the-shark moment in the film’s final act, showing up on the battlefield clad in armor, leading a pack of armed, vigilante children against the French invaders. Such idiocy quickly elevates this Robin Hood from being a thing of consistent boredom to blatant stupidity. The rest of the well known cast, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Max von Sydow, all walk through as best they can but there’s just nothing of note for anyone to do.
Robin Hood is without question Ridley Scott’s worst film in ages. He’s recently made films more grotesque and questionable to be sure, Hannibal & Black Hawk Down, but being this long-winded and dull is the bigger crime in my book. Feeling so completely unmoved by so much is a shocking display of ineptitude, one that many felt Scott incapable of making. But it’s happened and now we’re left to wonder if one of our elder statesmen of movie making has begun to lose his grasp on the form. I think there’s little doubt that Scott can bounce back, but such an epic blunder is hard to see past.