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Russell Crowe, Russell Crowe, Ridin' Through The Glen...

By Jeremy Levett, Our Man in the Odeon with a Bucket of Popcorn.

While I’m by no means a Robin Hood aficionado, there’s a fairly simple checklist of Robinish Hoodish tropes that I might reasonably expect to see in any iteration of the long-running collaborative fanfic that centres around England’s most commonly mistaken-for-real folk hero.

Let’s see how well Ridley Scott’s 2010 offering ticks the boxes...

[  ] Swashing
[  ] Buckling
[  ] Living in woods
[  ] Wearing of green
[X] Tax
[X] Nottingham
[  ] Sherriff of-
[  ] Robbing from rich
[  ] Giving to poor
[  ] Archery contest
[  ] Other display of amazing bowmanship
[X] Someone getting shot with something resembling an arrow
[X] D-Day  (Wait...  What?)

The film opens with captions in a wannabe-medieval font accompanied by dramatic narration, sounding like a far-right redneck caricature who believes all governments are inherently tyrannical (immediate thoughts: "grab my SKS longbow, go inna woods"). Voiceovers and captions of this sort are inherently Bad Things and signs of lazy filmmakers, but the rhetoric made me briefly wonder if I’d accidentally stumbled onto some sort of sophisticated medieval satire.

This was immediately put to rest by an assault on a castle in France, which is all very manly and impractical and involves napalm (like every film battle ever seemingly has to; echoes of the napalm-lobbing Pictish trebuchets in 2004’s godawful King Arthur). Richard the Lionheart, some heavy-handed narrative device or other tells us, is leading his men back to England from the Crusades, the fastest route apparently being through a French castle. Then he gets shot. In the throat. And dies. At the start of the film. How's that for shaking the legend up?

Meet our hero, Robin Longstride, an archer in the service of the punctured ex-king, the brooding silent type Russell Crowe is in every movie he’s ever been. Suddenly, this Upstanding Englishman (who character-defining moments quickly establish as a petty crook and brawler as well as a mercenary) is caught in a web of intrigue involving a dead man named Locksley! Through a shower of arrows and plot points he heads back to England. He is backed up by some men of a merry persuasion: “Will”, “John” and a bearded singing type I'm guessing is Alan. These characters are, throughout the movie, fantastic; they fill their archetypes perfectly but remain interesting, and are highly entertaining without stealing the scene.

King John was by far the most interesting character, his somewhat jarring Guatemalan (!) good looks notwithstanding; a clever, conflicted, conniving bastard, living in the shadow (and more importantly, the debt) of his warmongering brother. This was something that could have been played up more, but I'm very glad they did note that the fearless, peerless Coeur de Leon, the hero of the Hood legend, paragon and exemplar of all true English heroism, pretty much forced John's "evil taxes" by spending all the country's money swanning off to the Middle East and killing people. (Insert heavy-handed contemporary symbolism.  We get it.)  They could also have mentioned that he couldn't speak English, resided in the British Isles for about two years total and spent most of those massacring Jews for kicks, but given what they do to Robin I think there's probably about enough iconoclasm going on in this film already.

Without going into much more detail (intrigue, impersonation and Frenchmen being bastards, it's nothing you haven't seen before) the first two thirds really weren't bad: well executed plots, decent characters, good casting (Cate Blanchett as an old, steely Marion), nice camerawork and apparent historical authenticity. The only niggling point is that so far it doesn’t seem to be a Robin Hood film. There is no robbing, no living in forests, nobody is even wearing green.  (Actually they steal grain once.  From the church.)

Then, in the third act:
There is a generic and rather poor medieval battle scene;
It turns out Robin Hood’s father wrote the Magna Carta;
Robin the grubby mercenary archer is suddenly a heroic figure, which is to say he jabbers about liberty with all the passion and self-awareness of a 21st century right-wing strawman;
There is a much bigger, much more generic and much worse medieval battle scene, when the French stage D-Day;
No, really; the French landing craft assault on the Cliffs of Dover* is beaten back by the army of England, led by Our Heroes. Maid Marion and Friar Tuck pull horses, armour and weapons out of nowhere and are suddenly amazingly good at using them, and a ragtag band of feral Sherwood children with sticks rain greenwood hate on the frog.
There is some tax-related, King John-related dickery;
The named cast grab their 
rifles and American flags WOLVERIIIIIINES longbows and go inna woods;
Close with, once more, narration and "AND SO THE LEGEND BEGINS". Seriously? Did I just watch a Robin Hood origin story?

Robin Hood (2010): two acts of a moderately good low fantasy film in a weird alternate universe, followed by a string of reaction-image-provoking stupidity. Why on earth? Did they think that Hollywood really needs another example of "sticks name of beloved and well-known story on completely unrelated and incoherent directorial outpourings"?

Brace for The Eagle of the Ninth, starring Loch Lomond, a computer and an American with a truly stupid name...

* THE LANDING CRAFT GODDAMNIT WHAT?! Are they just the new visual shorthand for a beach attack? Do Hollywood think audiences won't understand an amphibious assault without them? They had Orcs using similar devices in the Return of the King film, but that was a) for a single, short river crossing b) actually a pretty nice example of the Evil Orcish Ingenuity of the books c) fantasy. Asterix did pretty much the same scene, with the Romans attacking Dover in wooden landing craft, but there it was funny; Asterix is not pretending to be realistic, and never lets historical accuracy get in the way of a good visual joke or a terrible verbal one. 
But Robin "ostensibly realistic" Hood? In the year 1200 people did not have FLAT-BOTTOMED LANDING BOATS WITH ASSAULT RAMPS. I was half expecting them to start suppressing the English pillboxes with mounted Oerlikons, or for French woodpunk duplex drive tanks to roll out of the waves. The moment I saw them I knew there was going to be a shot taken underwater with kicking legs, splashing and arrows slicing streams of bubbles through the surf. I called it. Fifteen seconds later it happened. I suppose I should be grateful we didn't see someone firing a longbow from horseback. 

1 comment:

Steve said...

I agree with alot of that. I kind of liked the characters and where it was all going. Blanchett is good in everything (in my opinion) and Crow is very watchable, unfortunately he has never been the best at accents and I thought in this it was all over the place (but then I have never had a talent for accents either). The Sheriff of Nottingham stood out for me as well, largely because I found him oddly humourous and pathetic, but he was under used as a character.

I also thought Mark Strong was...well strong, but it would be nice to see him do something other then play the villain ( although I am sure he is having lots of fun in Hollywood at the moment).

I did thing the story had potential but I did find the end battle very boring and uncreative, like Ridley Scott had run out of ideas and was just doing what he felt was expected. Overall an oddly dissatisfying film.

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