It’s true: There is no reason for another Robin Hood movie. But of course the Hollywood tradition of Robin Hood movies is to keep making them anyway.
So here’s Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood,” another of that director’s bloated vehicles for the battle-action Russell Crowe.
It is not wrong to feel mildly hopeful about this. For example, we could hope for Scott to be in a churlish, patronizing mood, wanting to show a snot-nosed generation weened on the origin stories of comic-book heroes what real Hollywood mythology is made of. We’d be hoping in vain, of course, as apparently his interest in this particular outlaw legend has more to do with it being a fully exploitable public-domain property. But at least we’d be hoping. In other words, any real gallantry to be had here will have to be supplied by the audience. That’s how lazy this movie is.
We meet the legendary medieval swashbuckler and presumed proto-socialist as an archer and foreign-policy skeptic in the crusading army of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston). Robin’s battlefield pledge to return a sword to a fallen nobleman’s father (Max von Sydow) portends a stint playing house with the man’s steely widow (Cate Blanchett, swathed in breathy soundtrack lady-song) and, in turn, a rhetorically charged revolt against their simpering, tyrannical, tax-happy new king (Oscar Isaac). Look, it makes as much sense as it can.
Scott’s ad-man background shows in his compulsion for brisk scenes establishing brand identites. For all its sooty clutter (evidently piled on in Brian Helgeland’s script), this movie will not be misunderstood. It gives clues, telling us, “Pay attention to that guy, whose name will ring a bell,” or “Don’t trust this guy; he’s very bald, and he speaks French.”
Sometimes it just tells us, in actual text at the bottom of the screen, where a given scene is taking place. “Nottingham,” for instance. Those screen titles might also come in handy as legal disclaimers: We may safely assume any resemblance of that climactic army beach invasion scene to other movie imaginings of 1944 Normandy is purely coincidental. (Indeed; here it’s the French who are doing the invading.)
In fairness, it can be said that the marketing property on offer here is well served by Crowe’s stocky yet sprightly athleticism. At least he doesn’t seem at all daunted by the big-screen Robin Hoods that have preceded him, among them Fairbanks, Flynn, Connery, Costner and perhaps best of all John Cleese in “Time Bandits.”
I was about to add: OK, fine, but a hey-whatever attitude does not a folk hero make. Nowadays, though, maybe it does. Have movies really gotten so used to supplanting history with mythology that now they just can’t resist supplanting mythology with drudgery? Scott’s expectedly humorless film, for all its production-budget abundance, suffers a fatal shortage of merry men.