There is no rhyme or reason in Hollywood. A person I know with some knowledge of how decisions are made in Tinsel Town once told me that a “coke break” there has nothing to do with cola, if you understand my meaning. Hence, I challenge you to come up with a reason for why, after so many different versions of basically the same tale, did we need another Robin Hood movie. Still, if you think the 2010 iteration of Robin Hood, starring Russel Crowe as the title character, is more of the familiar archery contests and robbing the rich to give to the poor, you would be wrong. Instead, in director Ridley Scott’s hands, we get sort of an origin story for the famous Sherwood Forest outlaw. Some of the same principal characters, and even elements of other stories are there, but this time it delves more into late twelfth century English politics because, you know, people are just clamoring for that stuff. Actually, the end result is not as bad as I remember it, all the way up until the last act when it seems that any historical consultants and perhaps the director were locked away somewhere and the inmates were given the run of the show. Either way, it is a movie with little time spent in the woods or seeing the main character steal much of anything. But what does anyone care? The title says Robin Hood, so it must be a Robin Hood movie.
This time with Robin Hood, we are back to starting out with text explaining the historical background. Times are bad for England, Kind Richard I (Danny Huston) is plundering his way back to England from the Crusades, blah, blah, blah. The first character we see, though, is Lady Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett), fending off from her husband’s Nottingham estate some of the poor and downtrodden due to the high tax burden in the land. Her husband is Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge), and he is with his king as he besieges a castle a France. Also, among those fighting on the English side is Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe), unsurprisingly a bowman. After the king is killed in battle, Robin and his companions decide to leave the army and return to England on their own. On the way back, they come across an ambush set by Prince John’s (Oscar Isaac) trusted advisor Godfrey (Mark Strong), who is tasked with assassinating the king. Finding King Richard already dead, Godfrey seeks to steal the crown being carried by Sir Robert to transport back to England, and give it to King Philip of France (Jonathan Zaccaï) because . . . money? At any rate, Robin and his companions happen upon the massacre in its closing stages, chasing away Godfrey and his men. Robin kneels before a dying Sir Robert, who makes the bowman swear to return his sword to his father, Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow) of Nottingham. Not only does Robin agree, but he decides to take on Sir Robert’s persona and give the crown safe passage back to London. Once that is done, and Prince John is made the new king, Robin then travels north to fulfil the oath he made to a dying man. When he and his friends arrive, Robin heads into the Nottingham estate alone, and the first person he encounters is Lady Marion. Initially, she instructs Robin to not reveal the fact of her husband’s death to Walter, but the blind old man senses something is amiss when the sword is handed to him and there is no Robert with it. The grief is real, but short, having been preparing for it for the past ten years. Not wanting to see their lands and livelihood confiscated, Walter suggests that Robin permanently take on the role of Sir Robert of Loxley, to which the former bowman reluctantly agrees. This makes him manager of a great deal of farm land. Unfortunately, the Church tax has taken all the seed from the estate, and the people of Nottingham are faced with the possibility of starving due to lack of crops. In response, we get the one instance of thievery, as Robin and those he came to Nottingham with steal their grain back as it is being shipped through Sherwood Forest. He even calls himself Robin of the Hood, so hooray, I guess. Meanwhile, King John’s new taxes are being enforced by Godfrey, who has gathered a small army supplemented by King Philip to loot every town that does not pay. The underlying goal is to destabilize England so that Philip can invade and take the country for France. So much trouble does Godfrey cause that it stirs the English nobility to meet in order to demand that King John take action. John arrives at this meeting, and so too does Robin. Robin then goes on to give a stirring speech about the rights of man and whatnot, but I will come back to this point. The main thing is that King John agrees to eventually sign a document to limit his power and guarantee rights in exchange for his people banding together to fight off the French. Robin then rushes back to Nottingham and makes it there in time to save Marion, but not Walter, from Godfrey’s attack. They then all travel to the Cliffs of Dover to meet the invading French army on the beaches, driving them back and killing Godfrey in the process. Unfortunately, John reneges on his agreement and declares Robin an outlaw. From there I guess you get the rest of the Robin Hood legends.
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, there is a moment in Robin Hood when the nobles seem to get their monarch to agree to what history knows as the Magna Carta. Briefly, it is one of the first documents in the Western world guaranteeing rights to all men (sorry women). Ridley Scott decided, for some unfathomable reason, to have a fictitious bandit utter many of the tenets that would find their way into the real document. I do not understand why this decision was made because, it would seem, he was trying to go for a more authentic interpretation of the history surrounding the Robin Hood legends. Having him be a bowman in King Richard’s army, fine. Having him impersonate Sir Robert Loxley, okay. Having him carry on as one of the Loxley family, sure. Having him come up with the idea for Magna Carta, wait, what? It is from this point on that the movie gets silly. Marion decides to join the battle, which fits with her character as it is set up in the movie, but stretches believability if you understand history. However, the crowning flop of the whole end sequence comes when you see the French army coming ashore in what appears to be Medieval Higgins boats, complete with front boarding ramps that go up and down. A Higgins boat is a vessel used by the Allies during World War II for amphibious assaults. If you have seen films like Saving Private Ryan (1998), then you have seen them in action. They are rather rectangular, and not much good in the water without the engines that propel them. They were not around in the late twelfth/early thirteenth centuries. What I am guessing happened is that the director found a few of these somewhere and decided to gussy them up to look older. If you know what to look for, though, it is painfully obvious they are Higgins boats.
One aspect of Robin Hood that links it to others of its ilk is the dim view of the Catholic Church. One of the troubles that Marion faces early on is the needed seed from the Church, and them being unwilling to share it. The bogus reason for being so stingy comes in the form of a rhetorical question from Father Tancred (Simon McBurney), who asks Marion if she wants the Church to starve as well. This flies in the face of the mission and teachings of the Church in general, and specifically the industriousness of the clergy at that time. Recently, I came across an article discussing a new discovery made at a ruined abbey in England, once a Cistercian monastery, where the monks had operated a large tannery to make leather. The point being is that the Church was self-sufficient, and helped people out of that sufficiency. Yet, because we need more villains I guess, the Church is depicted as being hoarders. Still, I would be remiss if I did not point out one thing I appreciated. On the Loxley family sword, on the hilt there is written the phrase, “Rise and rise again until lambs become lions.” Theologically speaking, we are all called to be lambs before God, and much of the imagery of Jesus links him to being like a lamb before those who persecuted Him. Nonetheless, I am drawn to this quote by the exhortation to continue to get back up again no matter how many times you are beaten. I sometimes let sin get to me, but I know that if I let God pick me back up again through Confession and Faith, there will be a reward for me. That is essentially the spirit of the quote.
As nice as that sentiment is, I do not recommend this version of Robin Hood. It is okay for the first two-thirds, I suppose, before going completely off the rails. It is another one of those films that I worry about somebody watching and saying to themselves, well, that was the way things were at that time. If you must watch it, shut it off after about an hour and a half. There is nearly another hour after that, so you will be saving yourself some agony.