With the arrival of Robin Hood’s latest big screen outing, you may find yourself asking one simple question: "Why?" After all, didn’t the recent BBC series render this particular dead horse fully flogged? Apparently not. And though hardly the most necessary of adaptations, it is an enjoyable one.
In his quest to repeat the success of Gladiator (2000), Ridley Scott has transported his Roman epic to greener pastures. Cue ye old English, talk of destiny and a lot of arrows as the typically rousing set pieces of Kingdom of Heaven (2005) et al return, although decidedly tamer and with less pomp and circumstance than one may have expected. Unlike Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Scott has taken a more realistic route which is both a positive and a negative; successfully trading Kevin Costner’s action hero for a gruffer lead is offset by a rather drab tendency to place drama above excitement. Indeed it may come as a shock to many that this latest iteration is more of a prequel than a straight retelling, an origin story which actually ends just as The Legend begins. What does this mean exactly? Well, there'll be no robbing from the rich to give to the poor, no merry men, forest-set guerilla warfare or an anti-King John uprising; basically the most appealing facets of the Hood mythos. Unless there’s a Robin Hood 2 further down the line, expect to be disappointed. That being said, the decision to play it straight is generally well received and adds a level of complexity to what has traditionally been a very undemanding example of chivalrous storytelling. Although the arrival of each well-known character never quite matches the thrill of seeing those reinvented in Star Trek (2009) for example, the reformation of Maid Marian into a peasant-like tomboy is sure to please Laura Mulvey and friends.
Surprisingly, it’s Russell Crowe who proves to be the film’s weakest link. While Oscar Isaac pours every drop of his soul into the ruthlessly impetulent Prince John complete with a fantastically impressive English accent, Crowe’s performance seems rather lacklustre by comparison. His usual intimidating ferocity is here subdued by the English weather so that this dream opportunity to play the usually cocky archer is wasted entirely. A late attempt to usher in the call of destiny via a father-son flashback fails to provide his character with a much needed jolt of motivation while his English accent veers between Scottish, Irish and Yorkshire. Clearly Scott’s love affair with him has taken priority over relevant casting. In the end of course, not much about Robin Hood IS relevant. For all the niceties with which it could be bestowed and as pleasant an experience as it is, there’s very little new to say. Watch it, enjoy it, just don’t expect it to change your life.
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First Knight (1995) ****
Kingdom of Heaven (2005) ***
Tristan and Isolde (2006) ***