21 May 2010: Robin Hood movie review

Robin Hood
From a video game

After the Citrix Synergy conference in San Francisco ended, I went to Cartoon Art Museum, which had exhibits on Beetle Bailey, Batman, and the art of Ed Hannigan. I later went to the Metreon shopping mall across from Yerba Buena Gardens for a falafel dinner, the “Hollywood Legends” costume exhibit, and the latest Robin Hood movie. Director Ridley Scott and lead actor Russell Crowe do a better job with the legendary English hero than Kevin Costner’s Prince of Thieves, even if the newer film contains almost as many anachronisms.

Scott conflates events including the Norman Conquest of Britain, King Richard the Lionhearted’s return from the Third Crusade and eventual demise, and his brother John’s reluctance to sign the Magna Carta. Robin Hood also shows tactics used in the battles of Crecy and Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War, yet it barely mentions the Saxon-Norman tension common to many versions of the legend, certainly since Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.

As with Prince of Thieves (of which I’m not a big fan), castle defenses in the latest Robin Hood are breached with explosives, accents are intermittent, and the villains are underdeveloped stereotypes. The landing craft of the devious French troops is even a visual allusion to D Day, during which English and U.S. troops invaded the coast of Nazi-occupied France during World War II, not the other way around! In many ways, the battles and father-son drama make this movie more of a sequel to Kingdom of
than about Robin Hood.

On the other hand, I was glad to see Robin depicted as a yeoman archer, and his supporting cast of brawny Little John, lighthearted Will Scarlet, the bard Alan a Dale, and chubby Friar Tuck was all in place. After some earlier controversy regarding the casting of Maid Marian, I liked Cate Blanchett in the role, which was made more substantial reflecting a modern feminist view of the late addition to Robin Hood‘s tales.

The sheriff of Nottingham, once the same person as the vigilante in an early version of the script, is reduced to a supporting role to the supposedly craven King John. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of wealth redistribution or swashbuckling in this version of Robin Hood.

I did like the cues to England’s Celtic and Roman history no doubt nods to Scott and Crowe’s successful collaboration in the equally ahistorical but atmospheric Gladiator. Like stories of King Arthur, the outlaw who robs from the rich to give to the poor around Nottinghamshire and Sherwood Forest has proven to be inspirational, reflective of the present, and resilient for centuries.

My favorite versions of Robin Hood are the classic 1930s Errol Flynn movie, the 1975 British television series, the 1980s neoPagan-flavored Robin of Sherwood, and the Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman film released in the shadow of the Costner debacle. Yes, there’s also the Disney cartoon, Sean Connery in Robin and Marian,
Mel Brook’s Men in Tights, and the recent BBC series, but I find myself going back to the Howard Pyle book (including one edition illustrated by Green Arrow artist Mike Grell).

I’d give the latest Robin Hood movie, which was rated PG-13 for violence, a 7 out of
10, a B-, or three stars.

Coming soon: San Francisco sightseeing and genre television updates!