Friday, 14 May 2010
'Robin Hood' review: Irredeemably terrible, overlong nonsense...
Many Robin Hood films have been made over years from the sublime (1938’s ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ staring Errol Flynn) to the ridiculous (Mel Brooks’ 1993 comedy ‘Robin Hood: Men in Tights’ in which the role fell to Cary Elwes). Adaptations of the story have seen Robin turned into an anthropomorphised fox (Disney’s 1973 animated version) and, more disturbingly, into Kevin Costner (1991’s ‘Prince of Thieves’). All of these versions of the legend, however flawed, attempted to turn the story into something fun and good-natured, with its hero cast as something of a quick-witted and sprightly rouge. Ridley Scott’s new version of the tale (named err… ‘Robin Hood’), some may be pleased to know, doesn’t re-tread the old ground and submit to this formula, with Scott managing to avoid any of the above.
Yes, ‘Robin Hood 2010’ (as I shall refer to it) is the opposite of fun and its hero is the opposite of sprightly. The "good-natured" part is also glaringly absent, as Russell Crowe's Robin Hood does almost nothing for the poor and robs precious little from the rich, as he mumbles in a generic “Northern” accent throughout the most turgid, bum-numbingly boring two hours and twenty minutes of recent memory.
Here Scott and his writers (‘LA Confidential’ and ‘Mystic River’ scribe Brian Helgeland, along with two of the intellectual heavyweights that brought us ‘Kung Fu Panda’) attempt to do for Robin Hood what Christopher Nolan did (with much better results) for Batman. This, we are told from the off, is the beginning of the legend and the film ends similarly to ‘Batman Begins’: with Hood established and ready for even greater adventures. The key difference, however, is that this film is tumour-inducingly dull from start to finish.
To begin with, Crowe has less charisma than a hellish lovechild of Gerard Butler and Shia LaBeouf. He grunts and mumbles his way through the film, never really raising a smile, flattening any line which might be humorous (and indeed, despite such able writers, we are never treated to ‘Kung Fu Panda’ level hilarity here) as he marauds the English country side looking like a huge, bearded potato on horseback. Flynn might not have played a Hood mired in psychological concerns (“who was my father!?” etc etc), but he was watchable and charming, bringing the character to life in your imagination. Children could (and did) aspire to be Flynn’s Robin Hood, swinging on chandeliers and besting his enemies with his wit as well as his arrows. I can not conceivably imagine anybody growing up wanting to mumble there way through Sherwood Forest as Russell Crowe.
Ok, so maybe that’s the point here: this Robin Hood is not for kids. It’s an adult version, with a tough, wilful Maid Marian played by Cate Blanchett (far from the courtly and mannered presence of, say, Olivia de Havilland) and a rugged “manly” hero in Crowe. Yes, I can see that Crowe is more convincingly a man who could have fought in the Crusades than Flynn or Costner or Elwes ever were. But is that an excuse for boring me with his mumbling presence? To paraphrase Benjmin Franklin: those who would give up essential entertainment to purchase a little temporary realism, deserve neither entertainment or realism.
Scott shoots the film in a bland, uninspired (if technically competant) way: the action sequences are coherent (if uninterestingly choreographed). Though the flashy, high-octane close-ups of people pulling bow-strings and the sped-up helicopter shots of the countryside are just plain absurd in this context. When we see French soldiers they are usually making stereotypically “French” noises in a Pythonesque fashion. I always expected them to mutter “feche la vache” at a key moment and turn the tide of battle in their favour by launching a cow onto the field. Throw into the mix a laugh-out-loud medieval version of the D-Day landing, with the French arriving on an English beach in World War II landing craft (complete with obviously derivative ‘Saving Private Ryan’ shots of arrows hitting soldiers in the water) and you have yourself a contender for “worst film of the year”.
But as obviously, inherently, breathtakingly silly the action sequences are (undercutting the “realism” that necessitated beefy Mr. Crowe in the first instance), I would have found myself far more entertained if the film had been an hour shorter and comprised solely of these scenes (the opening assault on a castle; the liberation of a village; the battle on the beach). Instead we are treated to a litany of awkward scenes that feature Crowe and Blanchett romancing (phwoar!). And when we aren’t being presented with that tantalising prospect, we have a load of historically inaccurate, xenophobic, right-wing gibberish to listen to.
The best thing I can say about this version of the story is that it takes a rather dim view of the crusades compared with other versions which tend to valorise King Richard the Lionheart (this is perhaps unsurprising from Scott, who directed ‘Kingdom of Heaven’). Similarly the church is shown as the wealthy and corrupt organisation it was at that time. Prince John (Oscar Isaac, who is probably the best thing in the film) is allowed to make some good points about his brother’s crusade, even as he sides with the perennially evil Mark Strong. But this revisionist look at the legend is a step in the right direction which is undermined by the extreme crap-ness of the rest of the production.
My brother (Chris Beames) summed it up best when after seeing the film he wrote the following as his Facebook status: “If you’re thinking of going to see Robin Hood. Then I think you should. Because at least that way it is fair.” Don’t worry; I am not yet angry enough at the human race to wish the same upon you.
I will say this: if you really, really liked ‘Gladiator’ (and you actually enjoyed the above trailer), then maybe you’ll want to see Crowe doing his Maximus bit in the woods of England. If, like me, you didn’t even like that film very much (though ‘Gladiator’ is a classic compared with this), then there is nothing for you here whatsoever.
'Robin Hood' is out now and is rated '12a' by the BBFC.