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Robin Hood Episode I: Robin Hood Begins

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<em>Robin Hood Episode I: Robin Hood Begins</em>

Hollywood’s infatuation with sombre reinventions continues in Ridley Scott’s depressingly dull Robin Hood, a revisionist take on the classic tale that reinvents the eponymous character as a Trotskyite dedicated to the cause of permanent revolution. Granted, the character has always been known for his proto-Marxist ideals vis-à-vis the redistribution of wealth, but the film takes this one step further, and makes the outlaw of Sherwood Forest instrumental in not just forming a nation from the scattered English fiefdoms, but pits him as a direct influence on the drafting of the Magna Carta. England, FUCK YEAH!

Ridley Scott has been dining out on the fact that he directed The Duellists, Alien, and Blade Runner for the best part of three decades, and here, once again, he churns out completely mediocre product. The only reason the film doesn’t totally flounder is due to occasional flourishes of directorial ingenuity and intermittently inspired acting. Robin Hood is a wholly unnecessary exercise in excess, as if, given the money and the power to do anything, the filmmaker decided to tackle the most frivolous of subjects with his signature dourness. I can’t wait for his reinvention of Tom Thumb as a molested black girl. (I am surprised, by the way, it’s never the other way round: a chirpy 3D animated reboot of, say, Shoah. But I digress.)

Russell Crowe is Robin Longstockings (I might have that name wrong, but, seriously, who gives a flying cock), a common archer in Richard The Lionheart’s (Danny Huston) army, which is returning home, having served some serious shoe-pie to Saladin and his Saracens (which, incidentally, was the name of my punk band in college). Richard gets killed during the storming of a French castle, leaving the throne to his libidinous brother John (Oscar Isaac), whose chief advisor and BFF Godfrey (Mark Strong), is trying to orchestrate an invasion of England in cahoots with the French king. We know he’s French because, when we first see him, he is eating raw oysters and says things like “merde” and “mon dieu.”

Meanwhile, out of a job, Longstockings makes his way back to England with his Merry Men—Little John (Kevin “Big Momma’s House 2” Durand), Will Scarlett (Scott “Critters 2: The Main Course” Grimes), and Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle—what serendipity)—when they rudely interrupt a slaughter of the dead King’s guard, who are taking the crown back to England. Longstockings promises a dying Sir Robert Loxley that he’ll take the knight’s sword back to his father, Sir Walter (Max Von Sydow), and, for good measure, assumes his identity. When he reaches Nottingham, Loxley Sr. pleads with Robin to keep up the charade, which the dead Loxley’s wife Marion (Cate Blanchett) is not too happy about at first. Then she remembers she hasn’t got laid for over a decade, and is all come-hither-looks and could-you-put-something-in-here-manners.

The invasion plot, in the meantime, is in full stride, as Godfrey and 200 French marauders ransack the Northern towns of England (this film has more title cards than Vegas), claiming to be collecting taxes for the King in order to incite a Civil War. The dead king’s consigliere William Marshall (William Hurt, who seems to be getting paid by the reaction shot) realizes something’s afoot, and starts to gather together an army to fight the French. The Northern barons are, at first, reluctant, but then Longstockings appears on the scene, and talks about—I shit you not—habeas fucking corpus, and they’re all “we’ll follow you to the ends of the earth, you paunchy outlaw.” And then they fight the French on the beaches.

I’d like to pose you a question, dear reader: Did you ever think, during all the various versions of the Robin Hood story, how the character came to be what he is? No, you didn’t. Let me tell you why by quoting the wisest person I know, me: Because WHO GIVES A FLYING COCK? The world wasn’t poorer for the lack of a Robin Hood origin story. It’s not like there was a widely read, ultimate account of the character’s beginnings, which had never been turned into a film, as was the case with, say, Batman Begins. Scott, Crowe, and their writer, Brian Helgeland, have fashioned a completely rudimentary tale of Medieval shenanigans here—change the character’s name from Robin Hood to Asshole McAsshole, and no one would say: “Hey, this sounds like the origin story of Robin Hood.”

This bastard child of Gladiator, King Arthur, Braveheart, and Le Retour de Martin Guerre fails on almost every level. The slipshod action is—as required, nowadays—fast, and seems to have been shot by a Parkinson’s sufferer while having an epileptic fit. Scott loves to play with the camera even during the less frantic scenes, and his slow zooms into faces are initially distracting, and later infuriating. A few choice moments stand out, like a wide shot of a field at dawn or rats crawling around on the food in Walter’s chamber, but these are followed by pure piffle, a shot showing the Merry Men planting the field, or Walter talking to Longstockings about his son or dad or something, I don’t know.

The necessary insertion into blockbusters of armchair psychology (to make them “deep”) comes in the form of ye olde trusty “daddy issues.” Longstockings has repressed memories of his father, who, it turns out, was a nobleman of sorts, and a bit of a revolutionary, and all this is resolved as arbitrarily as it is introduced. Other motifs scattered through the narrative include throwaway references to liberty, equality, and fraternity, but it’s the same old shit from a thousand different films. Yes, we get it—Rather than wearing tights, this Robin Hood is interested in rights. PUNBOMB, MOTHERFUCKER!

All of which might have been even less palatable were it not for jolly good work from Isaac, Durand and Matthew Macfadyen as the Sheriff of Nottingham. The traditional villain of the Robin Hood stories is sidelined here, but Macfadyen assays him as such a loveable buffoon that the film should have gained more traction from him. The same, alas, cannot be said for the two leads, who look bored, and whose lack of chemistry is palpable. If only they could bring a modicum of the joy to their roles that Macfadyen does to his, we would have something. The final film would still not be good, but it might have been, you know, fun.

Ali Arikan is the author of Cerebral Mastication. Follow his updates on Twitter.