Fans of the traditional Robin Hood story will be disappointed to find almost none of it here. This is a superhero origin tale, the back story of how a mere mortal of a man became the “Robin Hood” of legend. That’s not what disappoints me. I’m on board with the idea of a realistic, “historically accurate” telling of the man before the hood.
But this ain’t it. Oh, it may be mostly historically accurate, but emotionally accurate it is not. There is no passion here in what is one of the greatest love stories ever told, no anger in what is supposed to be a tale about injustices righted and tyrants tamed, no longing, no regret, not even more than the tiniest rumors of humor. No nothing.
It starts off promisingly, and with hints that this hero will be a more complicated man than we might have expected. Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is a “common archer” in the army of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), on his way home to England in 1199 from the Crusades. After an unfortunate encounter with the king himself one evening in camp, Robin deserts the army, ends up impersonating a knight and engages in a few other acts that seem rather more expedient than a noble figure of legend might get up to.
Even at this early point, however, there are other, less promising hints of what’s to come. An English soldier, Godfrey (Mark Strong), is in cahoots with the French king, Philip (Jonathan Zaccai), to further divide the already compromised England and invade; King Richard’s brother, Prince John (Oscar Isaac), is storming around in a perpetual snit over matters of succession; the monarchy’s money guy, William Marshall (William Hurt), is popping up with concerns over taxation; Marian Loxley (Cate Blanchett), lady of the Nottingham manor Peper Harow, is contending with a roving band of feral-child thieves who hide in Sherwood Forest.
There’s a lot going on here. Scriptwriter Brian Helgeland has crammed a television season’s worth of plot and character into one comparatively small movie: This is a 26-hour story, not a two-and-a-half-hour one. And the movie suffers for it, though I’d love to see the 26-episode version. This isn’t supposed to be the kind of tale where villainy is it own explanation—it’s more “serious” than that—but Godfrey is a complete mystery. Who is he? Why did he turn traitor? My minor quibble about historical accuracy—would a “common archer” such as Robin Longstride be literate, as we clearly see he is early in the film?—gets “resolved” in a wildly improbable “surprise” revelation that is ridiculously coincidental and then left entirely unexplored and unexplained.
Perhaps the worst instance of the rush to get through this overly stuffed movie is how it glides right over the romance. Robin, impersonating the dead Sir Robert Loxley with the complicity of his father, Sir Walter (Max Von Sydow), for the sake of the continuity of manor life, is suddenly in love with Marian, Loxley’s widow (also in on the impersonation scheme), and she with him, when the moment calls for it. I don’t think it’s too much to expect that I should fall in love with Robin and Marian as a couple, too. It’s not the fault of Crowe and Blanchett than we can’t. They both have moments, separately and together, that suggest the power and the passion that both of them always bring as actors to their performances. But they’re not allowed the freedom to create living characters here. There’s simply no room for it.
Robin Hood looks great, shot in authentic English locations with a handsome cast and spectacular battle sequences. But it’s all in aid of nothing: nothing to say, nothing to feel.
Russell Crowe Cate Blanchett Mark Strong