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Robin Hood: Long on brawn, short on merry

Russell Crowe in a scene from Robin Hood.

Kerry Brown/Universal Pictures/AP

1 out of 4 stars


Robin Hood

  • Directed by Ridley Scott
  • Written by Brian Helgeland
  • Starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Oscar Isaac
  • Classification: PG

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it "Robin Hood and his band of merry men"? Sure, given the vast number of Robins who have graced the silver screen through its bronze history, the guy is malleable, a legend for all seasons and reasons. But always, beneath the cutesy lesson in social democracy and the chivalrous romance with milk-skinned Marions and the delicious sight (to some) of men in tights, the lads, along with the viewers, were there to have a rollicking good time. The arrows were straight, but the tale was designed to bend towards kick-ass fun. Until now. Damned if those dual spoilsports, the gladiatorial director Ridley Scott reteamed with his portly star Russell Crowe, haven't drained every drop of merriment right out of the myth.

Instead, they've both come down with an acute case of epic-itis. What a ponderous, leaden, grey lump of a flick this is - over two hours of Block-Bluster. Gone is the outlaw prankster in his Sherwood-green Eden, leading guerrilla raids on the greed of the ever-scheming Court. Replacing him, in what purports to be a prequel to the legend, is an earlier Mr. Hood (although, in Crowe's middle-aged hands, certainly not younger). Alas, this version turns out to be an altogether dour and humourless titan, long on brawn but sadly short on quip. He seems more Roman than Robin, or, if you prefer a sporting metaphor, think George Foreman before his personality change.

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We first spot him as a lowly archer in the army of the lion-hearted Richard, storming a French castle while flaming pointed things shoot up and cascade down. That's also our first glimpse of Scott in action mode, and it ain't promising - lots of close-up fire but no real heat. Anyway, Robin's ascent out of anonymity proves impressively fast. Right quick, he's clambered up on a pulpit to deliver the first of his several sermons, lecturing none other than King Richard himself on crusader's etiquette, suggesting that the wanton slaughter of innocent Muslims might have been a tad excessive. (I think that's meant to pass for contemporary relevance.)

From there, the King is dead, long live the King: Enter the newly crowned John (Oscar Isaac), a demi-villain here, given to cruelly taxing his people and bedding down with his Parisian mistress. The true baddie, though, is Godfrey the Bald (a chrome-domed Mark Strong), who, unlike his monarch, doesn't just frolic with the French but goes a treasonous step further - he actually speaks the lingo and fluently at that. Quelle shameful Brit.

Meanwhile, having sailed his way back to England, Robin collects his band of ... sorry, no, that would imply a hint of the old merry, and this is a merriment-free zone. I do believe the boys - Friar, Will, Allan, Little John - make a fleeting appearance, but not so you'd notice, and not just because Scott insists on shooting this glumness through a glass darkly. Slightly more prominent is Marion, demoted from a maid to a widow in this incarnation, and, in keeping with the spirit of the occasion, played by Cate Blanchett with a perpetual scowl. Understandably so - that body armour she dons, in the name of steely feminism, must be awfully uncomfortable. Ditto for the dagger she permanently packs beneath her bodice.

Just guessing, but that may explain the complete lack of sexual chemistry between her and Robin - or perhaps it's just that a dose of steamy sex would run the risk of infecting the movie with some dastardly fun. Admittedly, at one point, Marion does remove Robin's suit of chain mail, link by lascivious link, but it only proves that, with his chest bared, Crowe's corpus is as lumpy as this opus.

No matter. Robin is way too busy mounting more pulpits to deliver more sermons. In a fact hitherto unknown to history, it seems his late Daddy, Robin Sr., actually wrote a first draft of the Magna Carta, thus freeing Junior to lecture the King on the fallibility of Divine Right and the necessity of "liberty by law". That's one enlightened archer. Lecture over, Scott charges on to the shores of the Channel and the climactic battle with the invading French. There, for a brief shining moment, he displays a majestic and panoramic flash of style. But the moment passes, and we're back to flaming pointed things.

Of course, this being a prequel, the final frame is really the starting gun, complete with our only prolonged look at Sherwood's leafy forest and a concluding title card that reads, "And so the legend begins". About bloody time. Finally, after hours of punishment, the promise of fun - our God-given right at last.

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Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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