I shot a movie in the air, it came to earth I know not where.
There’s a pre-trailer video running these days that urges you to shut off your cellphone by showing you a bunch of different movies interrupting your phone conversation – a war movie, a car chase, a zombie invasion, a Star Wars sequel. I felt the same way watching Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, which kept throwing movie after movie after me until I finally had to shut off my brain. The only thing these movies have in common is that they all take place during the 12th century, about 400 years before smiling had been invented. (But not, oddly enough, glassware, of which there is more in this movie than a wine tasting at the Four Seasons.)
And what are those movies?
Robin and Marian. You can add to the coincidence that Crowe and Connery were the same age when they played Robin Hood (47) the coincidence that both movies start out with the silly little siege that got Richard the Lion-Hearted killed. It’s a bad comparison for this film, not just because it makes more sense for a 47-year-old to play Robin at the end of his life rather than the beginning of his legend. (And I know, back in the twelfth century, you looked 47 when you were 22, but still.) It's a bad comparison because, in this movie, (a) the siege scenes are immediately undermined by constant crosscutting to London, where Prince John is being a dick to his wife and his mother; (b) the crosscutting to London is undermined by crosscutting to Nottingham, where Matron Marian's barn is robbed by the Lost Boys and not only don't you care, you have no idea what the hell is going on; and (c) the minute Russell Crowe gets introduced as Robin Longstride, you look at him and go, “Longstride? Really? Where does he keep his stilts then?”
Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t think Ridley Scott will ever forgive the world for ignoring his Crusades movie, even though the only thing it did effectively was torpedo Orlando Bloom’s career as a leading man. So we get a miniature version of the siege of Jerusalem, a clever way to cause explosions before the invention of gunpowder, a coincidental meeting between our hero and the villain that makes perfect sense when you realize that there was only one road in 12th Century France, and an ambush that kills a crucial character so that the main character can inherit his identity. Which leads us with impeccable movie logic to
The Return of Martin Guerre. Now that Robin Longstride is Robert Loxley, we get a lot of pointless tension about whether anyone will expose him as a fake. But nobody does, not even the villain, who knows he's a fake. So off Robin/Robert goes to Nottingham with three companions who turn out to be the ur-Merry Men (since this is the 12th century, they are actually the Dour Men), where Matron Marian's father-in-law, Ming the Merciless, asks him to continue the impersonation so Marian can keep her property away from the greedy hands of the Sheriff of Nottingham and his tax collectors. Or something. The Sheriff does show up and make a blackmail pass at Marian (I'll take care of your bill if you'll bill and coo with me), which sets him up as a potential rival for Cate Blanchett's prickly Hepburnian heart, but then a producer remembered how Alan Rickman stole the last Robin Hood out from under Kevin Costner, and cut all the rest of the Sheriff's lines.
Oh, and in this section? There's another primo example of Hollywood story-telling: now that the hero is someone else, he starts to remember who he really is. Can't you just hear the excitement during the pitch meeting when the writer said this? Everyone in that room was just splashed with glee. (Insert sarcastic emoticon here.)
This Robin Hood takes the jolly out of "Jolly good."
The Sea Hawk. And throughout all this there’s a subplot stolen from The Sea Hawk which regrettably has nothing to do with Errol Flynn: it’s the one about the trusted noble betraying the throne to another country--in this case Mark Strong’s Godfrey, who is conniving with the King of France to start a civil war in England by using French troops dressed as British troops to collect taxes, kill people, and burn a map of Northern England in a second-unit montage sequence, all so that the French can invade England in wooden versions of DUKW landing craft.
This is the point where my brain short-circuited, and the movies that make up this movie started flipping like a baseball card attached to the back wheel of a bike.
The Patriot. Remember that scene where the British bad guy herds everybody into a church and burns it to the ground? Same scene here. And just as historically accurate.
The Prince of Tides. Robin remembers who he is when Ming the Merciless tells him to close his eyes for a couple of seconds. (Which makes me want to close my eyes, but I can't.) In typical Hollywood fashion, only by remembering what his father did is our hero free to embrace his destiny and make King John sign the Magna Charta. Just like his father tried to do. Or something.
Saving Private Ryan. The French do a reverse D-Day assault on Dover Beach with a ton of computer-generated ships. Which makes it
Troy. Only this time Hector wins, because the French are all surrender monkeys who run at the first sign of defeat. You also get to see Robin Hood lead a cavalry charge on a beach, which is as totally incongruous as Zorro shooting arrows at the Commandante in Griffith Park.
Elizabeth. Cate Blanchett dons armor for the final fight, but because she’s really the Lois Lane of this movie, she almost drowns in six inches of water. And finally
The trailer for this very movie. Where you finally see all the cool stuff that made you want to go to the movie in the first place, like King John crying "Out-LA-A-A-A-A-AWWW!!!" and the arrow nailing the proclamation to the tree.
That's right--this is the Duck Amuck of Robin Hood movies.
To get meta for a minute? Everything about this film screams the words “Nobody does anything original anymore.” Hell, it’s even part of the plot. The main character doesn’t get incensed by a situation and then act in defiance of it, because character is not action anymore. Character is destiny. He gets incensed at a situation because he finds out his father did, so he’s not doing anything original at all, he’s following in his father’s footsteps. Just like Ridley Scott is following in the footsteps of a dozen other movies, some of them his own. And it’s a mess. It’s like a Monty Python parody without the laughs.
So if I were you, I would rent the Flynn movie in a heartbeat, or dig out that Looney Tunes collection with Robin Hood Daffy on it. As for this movie? It leaves you thinking two things. It leaves you thinking, "Wow--what a great cast! I'd love to see these people in a movie about Robin Hood." And it leaves you thinking this:
"Run away! Run away!"