Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Review of Robin Hood


This review originally appeared in "ICON" and is reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina!)

I know it's foolish, but my expectations are always high when the summer blockbuster movie season begins. The last couple of summers have seen my pie-eyed optimism gloriously rewarded. Last year brought us Star Trek, and 2008 gave us The Dark Knight and Iron Man. Watching those movies felt like going on a bold adventure. Star Trek got younger and sexier and owed nothing to its nerdy past. The Dark Knight did a remarkable job of creating psychological terror, a rare find in a movie with profitable action figure sales. Iron Man put Robert Downey Jr. in the title role—a bold move at the time—and didn't look back.

Compared to those movies, Ridley Scott's interpretation of Robin Hood feels like embarking on a walk through your living room. Yes, Scott has again used Russell Crowe as his leading man and the "ordinary man triumphs" theme in Robin Hood seems awfully familiar to the terrain covered in Gladiator, the duo's first collaboration. Those issues aside, I'm finding it hard to remember an adventure movie so intent on boring its audience.

Thanks to lore and a handful of movies, most of us know Robin Hood as the renegade archer who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, but it's clear that Scott wants to lay down the foundation for a series of movies. So, we learn how Robin (Crowe, of course), an outcast in King Richard's army, formed his band of merry men; we become privy to the power mad ways of the duplicitous, ungrateful Prince John (Oscar Isaac); we are acquainted with the woe of Maid Marion (Cate Blanchett), here a feisty farm woman with a husband she never knew; we discover how the French king employs John's boyhood friend (Mark Strong) to destroy England from within, which inadvertently sets Robin on his course to meet Marion. Oh, and we discover Robin's sad, idealistic childhood, featuring a father who was apparently the late 12th century version of Che Guevara, though without the T-shirt-worthy visage.

I have no problem with Scott providing background. I do have a problem with being bombarded with information for 140 minutes like I'm cramming for a final exam. Writer Brian Helgeland's biggest mistake is presenting the plot twists and character struggles with the artistry and suspense of a PowerPoint presentation. There are no surprises here. The script's utilitarian structure prevents good acting—characters are solely used to advance the action. That's not good for the courtship between Robin and Marion, only the movie's heart and soul. Blanchett looks lost, while Crowe is stuck on stoic, he-man autopilot. It's a shame. Seeing these fine actors properly portray two broken adults, who become whole when they find each other, would have given the proceedings some much-needed warmth.

Robin Hood desperately tries to be the summer blockbuster for adults, which means aside from having the narrative flair of a roll call, it strives to be contemporary. The men that Robin inspires can't tolerate a deceitful, long-standing government; the corrupt church refuses to help those in need. Hooray for bringing back 2004's hot op-ed topics! Scott wants Robin Hood to be important so he presents history galore and somewhat contemporary tie-ins and mature love interests as the crux of the movie, when they're actually accents. With a skimpy number of action scenes and a strictly enforced maturity that banishes any creativity, Robin Hood's endless attempt at being taken seriously is its most distinctive—and ultimately destructive—quality. [PG-13]

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