Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Robin Hood

Yes, there are spoilers, read at your own discretion.

I'm not entirely sure why this movie has prompted me to write a review out of all the movies I've seen over the years since last posting here, but I felt like I needed to say something about this movie. I had really low expectations going in and only watched it because I could get it for free from the library and was sort of on a Robin Hood kick from the adorable BBC Robin Hood series.

Aw, he's so adorably anachronistic! That being said, all Robin Hood movies are anachronistic (more on that later).

Really all this movie had to be was not Kevin Costner's version and I was going to love it. Anyway, the version I saw was the Director's Cut, so I'm not entirely sure what was added back into the movie, but it starts with written narration, telling us briefly about King Richard is returning home after fighting in the crusades and how there is an archer in his army named Robin Longstride. Already something feels wrong about this version of Robin Hood. Let's break it down.

1. This film takes place during 1199, but traditionally the story of Robin Hood takes place about a decade earlier while Richard is away and his brother John is abusing his regency, leaving Robin Hood to uphold the name of justice until Richard returns. Now, it doesn't really matter what time frame you put Robin in because he's just a fictional characters and all the story elements are just traditions passed down through the generations. That being said, when all a story is is a series of traditions that you change just to be different, you're telling a different story.

2. This is not our familiar Robin of Locksley, this is a peasant who ends up taking the place of the dead nobleman, Robert of Locksley. This doesn't really bug me, because Robin being a nobleman is one of the elements added to later renditions of the story, but it's yet another familiar element Ripley Scott is striping away from his version of Robin Hood.

So we meet Robin, the oldest soldier in the army, who despite being an archer uses his bow maybe four times in the whole movie. And his outfit is... ridiculous.

I can't really dislike the movie for this, because it's being both accurate to what they actually wore at the time and it is literally the only familiar Robin Hood thing they've kept in the movie. But it's just so... stereotypical... and silly. I'll take Errol Flynn's costume over this any day.

All of this griping aside, the battle sequences in this film are incredible. The storming of the castle at the beginning is slightly underwhelming, but maybe that's because Robin spends most of it in the stocks and it's a chef that takes out King Richard. Lame.

Robin and his merry men (yeah, he's already collected them) break out and go AWOL, in an attempt to reach the coast before the rest of the army. I guess because it will be harder to get a passage across the channel if a few thousand men are hiring ships. This army, by the way, will never be mentioned again. When King John is freaking out about not having an army to fight the French invasion with, I gotta wonder why he doesn't just use this army. And how exactly are the French able to attack England when there's an English army plundering their soil? I guess the English army got drunk and slept in for the rest of the movie.

Instead of reaching the coast though, Robin instead stumbles across one of the most overly complicated Robin Hood plots I have ever seen.

I'm not even going to try to explain it, because I know I'll get something wrong. Needless to say Mark Strong is a villain, real surprise there, who is working with the French while pretending to be Prince John's loyal subject. He ambushes a bunch of nobles who are also leaving the battle to reach the coast in the hopes of killing the already dead King Richard. This is where Robin meets Locksley and the two switch places. Confused yet?

They end up using the King's crown and disguises as lords to make their way across the channel and once all this overly long exposition is over John is King, going to marry a French noble named Isabella, whom his mother objects to and Robin is off to Nottingham with his merry men to return Locksley's sword to his father - though not before Mark Strong recognizes him and decides to pursue him. To keep his cover, I guess, but William Hurt ends up blowing his cover about a half hour later anyway.

But the plot's not important, so let's stop there to talk about why all Robin Hood movies are anachronistic, and why this one really stand out for being so. Thanks to my wonderful Medieval Literature course I've been learning about the evolution of the English language and, well, they didn't speak it back then. They hadn't even gotten to Middle English (think Geoffrey Chaucer) by this point. The peasants spoke Old English, or Anglo-Saxon (think Beowulf) and the nobles spoke Old French. So all the scenes where Isabella is seen to be indignant because she will only speak French to the English just don't make sense to me. They all spoke French!

I do understand the need to have the characters speaking English instead of Anglo-Saxon, and artistically you can get away with it, but when you decide to have a lot of the characters speaking French anyway, why not go that extra mile and actually have all the French speakers speak French? Are you just trying to create more animosity between the French and English? Because frankly it's lazy to rely on a language barrier to show that.

Also, in real life Isabella was 11 when this movie took place (she married John at the ripe and legal age of 12). So... that's gross.

Finally Robin reaches Nottingham where he meets Maid Marion... who isn't a maiden at all, as she's Robert of Locksley's widow. Robert's blind father asks Robin to take his son's place and pretend to be Marion's husband so she doesn't lose the land when he dies. The amount of trust suddenly placed into this perfect stranger is astonishing to me. What's to stop Robin from taking the land and throwing Marion off when Old Man Locksley dies? What's to stop him from raping Marion when she invites him into her chamber to continue the ruse? You don't know this person! Or does he? That gets a little foggy later.

The other astonishing change in this movie is their characterization of the Sherif of Nottingham. He is a complete pussy in this movie, a pussy that does *nothing*. He barely has screen time. He has been replaced as Robin's nemesis by Mark Strong and that's just fucking ridiculous to me. I feel like like they forgot about his character in the first few drafts and only added him as an afterthought. That's like having a Batman movie where the Joker is just a petty thief Batman takes care of in one scene, leaving all the big fights to some evil character the filmmakers made up. You can't do that! You can't strip away every iconic thing about Robin Hood and then still call it Robin Hood!

This is my biggest gripe with this movie. Change all the character names and you will not be able to recognize it as a Robin Hood story. I'm not even entirely sure Ridley Scott likes Robin Hood from the way this story is told. I think he just wanted to make a period piece and the only way he could sell it was by calling it Robin Hood.

To convolute the story even more, it turns out Robin is himself from Locksley, and his father was some... politician? Drafter of legal documents? Stone mason? I have no idea, but about halfway through the movie Old Man Locksley and William Hurt start telling Robin about his father and what a great man he was, so I guess they always knew Robin? I AM SO FUCKING CONFUSED.

So why do I like this movie? This movie that has a confusing and forgettable plot. This movie with underdeveloped characters I don't give a damn about. This movie with no resolution that has an ending tacked onto it just to fool us into thinking it's a prequel to Robin Hood's adventures.

Because the battles are fucking amazing. The sets are detailed and feel real. The weapons look dangerous. Visually it's absolutely stunning and being that I'm on such a medieval kick at the moment I just ate it up. The final battle, at what looked to be the Cliffs of Dover but are apparently some other white cliffs in England, is quite possibly the best battle I've seen in a long while. It didn't look like any battle I've seen in a movie before, and the archer's lined up on the cliffs like that reminded me of the fact that at one time England was known to have the greatest archers in all the world. It's an absolutely terrifying sight to be met with as you land on a beach.

Of course, Robin doesn't stay with the archers, instead he gets on a horse and starts beating people with a hammer. Because when I think Robin Hood, I think of a 45-year-old man on horseback with a giant hammer. And then Marion storms the battle with a dozen children... wait, what? Yeah, that part was weird.

People coming to this movie and wanting to see a story about Robing Hood, or any kind of comprehendible story of any sort, will be sorely disappointed, but those who want to emerge themselves in the medieval world couldn't pick a better movie to watch. You'll be confused, but you'll never be bored.

And remember, if you don't watch it Russell Crowe will find you... and take your head off.


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