Movie Review: Robin Hood (2010)- An Incredibly Convoluted Prequel Re-envisioning That Falls Flat and Feels Desperate

It shouldn’t be a surprise that when people hear the name Robin Hood they should immediately think of an archer loyal to Richard the Lionheart fighting against the injustice of tax laws imposed by Prince John normally through the rival the Sheriff of Nottingham. From Errol Flynn to Kevin Costner the delivery of Robin Hood has always been varied but the structure and the core of that story is what allowed it to make sense and remain familiar to audiences. It appears Ridley Scott has taken some notes from the likes of Tim Burton and Joe Johnston by taking a known source and throwing out everything of the structure except for the name. If you don’t recognize anything that occurs throughout Ridley Scott’s prequel re-envisioning of Robin Hood then no one blames you because its just Scott’s convoluted, paradoxical, and history twisting interpretation of the classic fiction tale. Certainly the producers are hoping for a big release since they didn’t even skim the surface of the robbing from the oppressive government rich and giving back to the liberty stricken poor Robin Hood and instead have introduced the disillusioned war veteran Robin Hood, whose loyalty is given to basically no one. Scott is trying to grasp the glory that was Gladiator and falls flat in the desperate attempt. This doesn’t mean that Robin Hood doesn’t entertain at all because its action is tight and well delivered. Even some of the performances, especially Cate Blanchett, are well done and aid the too complex for its own good plot. But what this Robin Hood proves is that a big budget can’t necessarily make up from your deviation of structure, especially when the BBC is airing such a great television series of the same character with infinitely less expenses.

So what is so drastically different about this version of Robin Hood that makes it so difficult to give it a solid review? Well we are introduced, with cheating title cards, to the scenario at hand where Robin Longstride is an archer in the first crusade under Richard the Lionheart. Where it deviates strongly is when we learn that Robin is completely disillusioned with Richard’s crusade because of the slaughtering of Muslims. Are there any political messages becoming obvious yet? Putting that to the side it actually gets weird when Richard dies in battle, taking away the entire original core from the original Robin Hood tale where Robin is loyal subject of Richard and objects to Prince John’s abuse of the throne in Richard’s absence. Then things get really complicated when we are introduced to a completely new character named Godfrey who is attempting to create civil war within Britain while also aiding King Phillip of France to overtake Britain. John becomes king and marries Eleanor of Aquitaine, which is Ridley Scott’s combination of actual history and The Lion in Winter making Richard and John based on historical figures rather than complete fiction. This could be a benefit but it isn’t handled well in the drastic deviation of the Robin Hood tale. Robin and his merry men aren’t quite merry, especially Little John who is a bit brash and a drunkard. In fact, it is actually difficult to explain everything here in a sort of synopsis because it tries to balance everything from civil war, improper taxation, blatant contradictory political messages, a power hungry King, and an awkward love affair that involves mostly everyone from the original tale by name except, of course, an essential factor being the Sheriff of Nottingham who appears momentarily for no good reason at all if not to just be presented that he actually exists in this convoluted prequel re-envisioning.

Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood does indeed reek of desperation trying to recreate the epic nature of Gladiator by claiming the successful grounds of another epic work known as Braveheart. The inspirational speeches, the soaring music, and the fast paced sword and arrow action done through editing all make great evidence to Scott attempting to recreate the formula that made his Oscar winning film so good. But everything just comes off flat in the end especially when you forget about the entire restructuring of the Robin Hood plot. Most of the characters are barely known to us and this includes Russell Crowe’s version of Robin Hood. Its association by name, whether it’s Little John or Friar Tuck, that Scott is depending on so our familiarity of the characters can be fit into this unknown version of the Robin Hood story. Screenwriter Brian Helgeland didn’t really account for developing character within the script and just depended on the character names to trigger our subconscious awareness of the actual character depictions on the screen. Not to even mention that Russell Crowe is by far the oldest looking version of Robin Hood to ever be on the screen. Crowe has lived longer than most people back then could even dream of lasting. He just seems out of place much like everything on the screen, and that includes Cate Blanchett no matter how good an actress she might be. Most of the supporting cast is well chosen especially Mark Addy, Max Von Sydow, William Hurt, Danny Huston, and Mark Strong who all portray their intended characters well if only in separation of the original source. All Scott and Helgeland really had to do was stick with the original tale, but Scott wouldn’t be able to add in his nuanced ability at sword fights, which in even Robin Hood isn’t as good as his other crusade work Kingdom of Heaven.

Alright so the acting is alright despite the obvious age problem and the action is well done even if it doesn’t even come close to matching Gladiator or even Braveheart. So what is Ridley Scott’s intention of re-envisioning the story of Robin Hood? Well its simple brow-beating at its best lecturing audiences across the world on foreign invasion of Muslim countries and that we should be living in communes where everyone has an equal share at nature’s table. Division of political views aside this message in contrast with Robin being the enforcer of unjust taxation by a greedy government taking away personal liberty just becomes a drastic paradox. You can’t say live without any government and be one with nature at the same time as speaking of being equal under the law, a human institution. Ridley Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland trip all over themselves in their prequel Robin Hood by making the story too convoluted by attaching multiple and varying plot devices, including manipulation of civil war and Robin Hood’s back story which some stranger seems to know all about it without any prior indication that he knew otherwise. Robin Hood just appears as though it’s trying way too hard at the same time not igniting any real emotions for the characters and their plights, which in filmmaking could be seen as a failure. Luckily not all is bad in this film and it certainly will entertain a majority of summer film seeking audiences.

Adaptation is certainly a screenwriting art form that isn’t well respected in the modern age because it appears all screenwriters think they can be better than their source. This has happened with a majority of projects as of late and proves that one shouldn’t deviate too far from the core of their adapted source or all things will crumble apart in the end. Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is far from being anything close to the original source because it’s a complete re-envisioning of the tale focused more on back story than it is with character motivations and development. If you take away the original core you need to provide a believable and even flowing new one to replace it if you want the film to be paced properly with no obvious glitches. Unfortunately Scott wanted to make another sword fighting film and he succeeds by making drastic plot and character sacrifices, making the action the only constant enjoyable aspect of the movie. Desperate attempts at putting all of the perceived variables together to recreate a previous successful film usually don’t work out and Robin Hood, with its overly intricate plot and strange older casting choices, makes for a great modern example of this kind of failure.

Grade: C

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2 Responses to “Movie Review: Robin Hood (2010)- An Incredibly Convoluted Prequel Re-envisioning That Falls Flat and Feels Desperate”
  1. Davison says:

    Wow…did not pull any punches. Personally, I thought it was pretty good…and I anxiously await the director’s cut DVD. Scott has been known to have great director’s cuts, and I’m hoping it will only improve this movie. There’s a clip on Youtube of one of the deleted scenes that looks very Robin Hood-y that may have been absent from the film:

  2. Zac says:

    I disagree that Ridley Scott’s 2010 version on the traditional Robin Hood legend and folktale is somewhat ‘convoluted.’ Yes it does deviate from the traditional form and structure of the original folk tale, but don’t all story do that? Also, I resent the implication that Scott has failed as many critics would suggest. This version is jam packed with historical reference, Richard the Lionheart having actually died in 1199 in France. It focuses more on the life and origin of Robin Hood himself, aiming to give the audience an idea, fictional obviously, of where this legend came from and how he became exactly that, a legend.

    It is easy to slate and bad mouth Scott, his success of Gladiator in 2000 may have been too great for his own good, becuase technically speaking Robin Hood is a brilliant film. Yeah, its long, and its story is somewhat complex, but that is the reality of 12th century Britian and politics, namely the introduction of the Magne Carta, the first piece of English legislation that to this day, holds significatn bearing and brunt of modern democracy and law of the land. That in itself shows that Robin ‘Longstride’ is somewhat of a maveric in Scott’s version.

    Also, do people forget that Kevin Costner’s version of Robin Hood was simply put, awful. Since when does an American accent come to play a part in a Lord of Nottinghamshire? At least Crowe had the decency to attempt a Nottinghamshire accent, albeit questionably.

    The biggest aid to Scott’s version is the shear wealth of information available, the subtle things. The chainmail armour, the arrow heads, the clothing, the music, the architcture, the farming style and innovations of 12th century England. All of these things and more culminate to aid the story and the plot, and it is fairly obvious that Scott and his team fully intend to make a sequal, perhaps more orientated toward the legend and story we all know and love. Similar to Batman Begins and the fantastic sequal, Batman Dark Knight.

    Anyone who critices this film for being convoluted is frankly an idiot. Its action packed, its funny at times, it has an interwoven romance tale and most of all, to date, it is the most accurate version of Robin Hood.

    4 stars.

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