Would it kill Ridley Scott to give viewers anything in Robin Hood that matches the myth? Nobody even mentions Sherwood Forest, although there's a lot of slo-mo riding and roaring amid trees that might be the place.
The Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John are dithering fops, leaving the nasty business to bad, bald Godfrey, who's conspiring with the French to invade England while Robin (with and without the hood) almost ramrods the Magna Carta (huh?) into existence. Robin, played with a brave heart by Scott's mayhem muse Russell Crowe, tosses off the word "merry" once, sarcastically referring to his men.
A distinct lack of merriment marks each frame of this film, with Scott determined to erase all fond memories of past Robin Hoods. This is a prequel to the swashbuckling myth, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be fun. Nobody expects knights who say "Ni" or cows catapulted over parapets, but something.
Screenwriter Brian Helgeland's lone improvement to the 12-century English legend is making Maid Marian into a Lady, and a feisty one at that. She's a damsel capable of causing distress, the kind of steely medieval woman Cate Blanchett can play in her sleep and almost does.
Marian is the daughter of Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow), whose son was killed in battle and wants his sword delivered to the old man.
Robin Longstride (Crowe) fought alongside the slain soldier during the crusades of Richard the Lion Hearted (Danny Huston, hamming it up). Robin will make the delivery and a pickup on Marian, too.
A brief attempt to be lighthearted follows, with Robin and Marian posing as man and wife to … do something to the increasingly muddled castle intrigue. Blanchett loosens up, Crowe even smiles, and the movie gets a personality uptick.
Then it's back to bludgeoning business as usual, filmed by Scott in annoyingly edited closeups leaving viewers confused about which side is losing troops. That is, unless it's Crowe doing the sword slinging and arrow flinging, too often in slow motion as his stardom requires. Even a rain of arrows from atop a cliff — usually a showstopper in historical epics — seems smaller and dull.
It's obvious now that Scott needs to find another actor besides Crowe to indulge such muscular macho fantasies. Gladiator is simply too memorable to think of anything else when the director sends his star into the breech. Especially when Prince John (Oscar Isaac) is faint copy of Joaquin Phoenix's villainous dandy, and freedom is Robin's soapbox issue.
And, by the way, let's stop having Crowe or anyone else ride a horse past battle-ready troops while yelling the cause, even if it's "Liberty!" rather than "Freedom!" Too Braveheart.
By drawing such comparisons to superior movies, Robin Hood sticks an arrow in its own eye. By losing comparison to the legend, the movie's fate is sealed as forgettable. This isn't your father's Robin Hood, and won't be your son's, either.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.