Whatever, merry (men)

Posted on 13 May 2010 at 11:37am
By ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

Men in tights? Hardly. ‘Robin Hood’ equals ‘Braveheart’ plus ‘Spider-Man’


THE GOLDEN ARCHER | Robin Hood (Russell Crowe) shows off his longbow on the battlefield.

2 out of 5 stars
ROBIN HOOD
Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt. Rated R. 140 mins. Opens today in wide release.

Oh, to suffer the slings and arrows of … well, in the case of Robin Hood, slings and arrows. At just shy of two-and-a-half hours, this Medieval actioner has a running time that would accompany something more epic — a summer tentpole franchise, perfectly positioned for sequels. Perhaps that’s the goal.

The problem is, the film doesn’t feel epic, merely overweight. Pretentious opening title cards don’t give it more heft, just more detritus to wade through. Oh, would that it felt as fun as we peasants had hoped! Alas! Alack!

Robin Hood is less like the last sword-and-sandal pairing of star Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott, Gladiator, than it is a modern comic book superhero movie: We learn how the man got to become the hero, seeing the building blocks of his legend: The hood he wears, his skill with a longbow, how he assembled his band of men. ("The more the merrier," he quips, seriously undercutting the image of them as a clutch of forest-bound woodsprites, singing their way through the dark ages with hearty laughs and suggestive all-male companionship.)

It’s odd, then, that with all the post-modern ideas at work here, the movie itself is so old-school in its techniques — nay, clichéd: The imagery is elementally mythic (villains wear black capes and have facial scars; heroes ride white horses), the style unironically retro (Gothic lettering on parchment maps that slowly burn to illustrate pillaging). Stylistically, this could have been made in the ’30s with Errol Flynn. Oh, right, it was.

Which begs the question: Why another version of the story in the first place? The rock-n-roll comic incarnation with Kevin Costner (now, shockingly, 19 years old) was a disaster of historical inaccuracies, but it knew itself to be bubblegum; this one steals from Prince of Thieves (arrow POV shots, upgrading Marian from "Maid" to "Lady," setting it during the reign of Richard the Lion Heart) without really improving on it; it steals from the classic MGM version by giving Robin the name Loxley; hell, it even poaches the Robin-vs.-King John plot from Disney’s 1973 animated movie (with Robin a fox and the king, inexplicably, a mountain lion). Without any truly original ideas, what’s the point? (One modification that’s not welcome: Deleting references to King Richard’s historically known homosexuality.)

Of course, entertainment value can be an end in itself, and there is some of that. Scott gives the flying arrows the immediacy of tracer bullets, and the frenetic editing, distracting in the early action scenes, relaxes a bit later. And there is the juicy, petulant performance by cutie Oscar Isaac as King John (and one brief shot of a beefy Crowe) for some eye candy.

Cate Blanchett seems, with every gesture, as if she knows she’s slumming it, and Brian Helgeland’s script feels programmatic: Every good guy gets one villain for them to vanquish, the comic supporting characters are, by turn, rough-and-tumble lugs (Little John), scheming clerics (Friar Tuck), wise-cracking weaklings (Will Scarlet).

The real Robin Hood reputedly robbed from the rich to give to the poor; this Robin Hood merely takes the money of moviegoers and gives it to the studio. Somehow, that’s not a comfort. •

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 14, 2010.

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