Imagine the scene; England is facing financial ruin, taxes are being implemented and raised and the country is having to recoup after going to, what some would reason as, a pointless war. Sound familiar? No, it’s not a biopic of modern day Britain but is, of course, the tale of Robin Hood. The year is 1199, King Richard the Lion Heart sits upon England’s throne and is returning home after his crusades. When he is killed in battle his inept son is crowned and civil uproar ensues. Atop of this historical backdrop rides Robin Longstride, perhaps better known as Robin Hood. Telling the tale of his coming to be the renowned hero, Robin Hood is somewhat of an origin story, a superhero back-story set in the middle of medieval Britain.
Ten years after Gladiator bought them together Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe are re-united for another period epic. Ditching the rugged Roman outfit in order to don warmer layers (thankfully omitting the green tights) and choosing to carry a bow and arrow instead of bare-knuckle fighting, Crowe plays the eponymous hero Robin Longstride.
It was only a matter of time before the tale of the English do-gooder who stole from the rich to give to the poor was given a true Hollywood make-over (does Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves really count?) and it seems fitting that Scott be the man to do it. With the popularity of Gladiator backing him it would seem that Scott could do little wrong. Except, maybe, cast Crowe as the film’s hero. Although his performance is, at times, stirring and well-suited to the film, the inclusion of Crowe in the cast has led to endless comparisons with the afore-mentioned Gladiator (see, even we fell victim to the trap) which means Robin Hood is forever in its older brother’s shadow.
Like Gladiator, Robin Hood is almost two and a half hours long and, whereas Gladiator filled almost every moment with intensity and emotion, Robin Hood sometimes falls short and consequently feels slightly excessive (…sorry, what did we say about excessive Gladiator comparisons?). Luckily Robin Hood does not falter when it comes to its epic scenes. The battles endured during the film are gritty, involved and testament to Scott’s directorial prowess. Mark Strong provides a truly villainous portrayal of the mutinous Godfrey whilst Cate Blanchet’s Marion is headstrong and often outshines Crowe’s Robin whenever they share a scene.
Although the actual necessity of providing a sequel for Robin Hood’s legacy may be questionable it is an enjoyable romp through Robin’s past. This said, the repeated ‘merry’ reference (pointing toward Robin’s future Merry Men, no doubt) gets a little wearing and the humour present in the film jars slightly with its tone and context. Although Mark Addy’s Friar Tuck is likeable, he seems out of place in this film.
The film, quite obviously, deals heavily in the glorification of the ‘honest, brave and naïve’ Robin. Although it is to be expected, the level to which the glorification is layered on is, sometimes, a bit much. His role in communicating the death of King Richard to the people of England coupled with his importance in the foundations of what will presumably become the Magna Carta are overly exaggerated even if fictional license is applied. The film hits a lull when Crowe’s Robin makes his way to Nottingham but the pace returns with the approach of King John’s men. The fight scenes that follow are of Gladiator magnitude and will please even the film’s sceptics.
The film’s plot is not taxing if watched properly and, with the final lines of the film being ‘and so the legend begins’, viewers are sure to have not seen the last of Robin Hood. Bryan Adams is absent from the film’s soundtrack, although some would class this as being a vast improvement for Robin Hood’s legacy, the fact that the film lacks Alan Rickman’s brilliant portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham is a definite downfall, even if he would have clashed with Scott’s interpretation of the famed archer. With the door left open for a Robin Hood pt. II (something that would never have been welcomed by Gladiator fans for obvious reasons) it seems quite obvious what shape the next Scott-Crowe collaboration will take. The only question is whether it will again be over-shadowed by its turn of the century predecessor.
; ‘Henceforth I declare you an outlaw.’
Best performance; Mark Strong and Cate Blanchett offer the best performances of the film.
The film’s director also directed Gladiator. …okay we kid, but before it was announced that Crowe would become the famous archer Christian Bale was considered for the part which, although making for a completely different film altogether, would have perhaps rested all the comparisons. Another consideration, one that involved Crowe playing the parts of both Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham would have perhaps doubled them.