The new Robin Hood reboot, starring Russell Crowe, is not like any Robin Hood you’ve seen before. If you’re familiar with a little film called Gladiator however, then you’ll probably have a pretty good idea of what you’re in for. This Robin Hood is trademark Ridley Scott: the subject matter is handled seriously, the laughs are few and far between, and life-and-death events are not traded for cheap laughs. Men in Tights, this is not.
And that makes sense, I suppose. In these recessionary times, in the midst of a seemingly endless war and with the globe in peril, audiences would be reluctant to accept the campy Robin Hood they have in times gone by, I suspect. So don’t expect a coiffed Kevin Costner or the bloodless escapism of the BBC television version. The action is gritty, the baddies are bad and this Robin Hood has a permanent scowl.
And in shying away its predecessor’s romantic, episodic tendencies, this version of Robin Hood has found new material by mining the myth’s back-story, in much the same way as the hugely successful Batman Begins reboot avoided the clichés of its past by focusing on the origin tale, rather than creating just another installment of a well-established classic. This is the story of Robin Longstride’s metamorphosis into Robin Hood, from his loss of innocence during the crusades to his discovery of a social conscience.
Crowe says that he’d always wanted to tackle the story of Robin Hood, but was wary of staying too close to the territory of past versions of the legend.
"There are a lot of questions in pretty much every cinematic Robin Hood that never get answered. The filmmakers take it for granted that you know a certain amount about the story and they go from there. We weren’t really interested in what people think they know about Robin Hood. We wanted to wipe the slate clean and start again. Because really once Mel Brooks has been there and done Men in Tights it’s time to take a fresh look at it... For us, the adventure was to find that place where a rebel leader would rise in England, apply pressure to the monarch, for whatever reasons and what his central motivation was.”
And the England presented here is about as bleak as you’re likely to find in a film of this type. And fair enough too, I suppose. It is after all high taxes and monarchical tyranny that Hood is supposed to rebel against, so it would be little use portraying life in twelfth century England as all sunshine and lollipops.
And luckily for action fans, that realism extends to the cast’s use of authentic weaponry, including of course, Hood’s iconic bow and arrow.
"We’ve done much more than we expected to do in the film,” says Crowe, "in terms of being able to get actual shots in there where we can shoot an arrow and hit a target, or doing things like hunting and putting the camera up in the trees, 120 yards away, and so you focus on a tiny little figure and then you see the arrow go ‘whoosh!’ straight to the camera. But you can only do that sort of stuff if you take the time to learn the sport. It’s cool, man, very cool…”
Interestingly, though realism is the name of the game throughout the film, the violence never reaches gratuitous levels, even during the battle scenes, something which Scott consciously avoided.
"It would be very easy for [Ridley] to revisit the same territory as Gladiator and sever heads and limbs here and there,” says Crowe, "but ultimately there is such a strong moral core to this story that you want kids to be able to see it.
"I was happy to take my two boys, and they are only aged six and three and a half, because at the end of the day, even though it’s a big epic story, it’s what’s actually being said about altruism and about working on behalf of other people. These are very important things and these are great seeds to put in the hearts of kids.”
And the message of altruism is certainly present. What’s missing, however, is the romance which fans of past versions may be expecting. While Hood and Lady Marion do indeed get together, the results are less than sizzling. Somehow, the story of their unfolding mutual attraction manages to make both Robin Hood and Marion seem like a couple of cheating suburbanites, and despite Scott including every cliché in the book, it never takes, with nary a spark between them.
Robin Hood is a really good film. It’s trademark Ridley Scott, and Russell Crowe can act the pants off anything he puts his hand to. However, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing. It’s not that it’s unbearably grim — it’s not — but it’s definitely low-spirited in places, and it would have been great to see those exciting action sequences refreshed from time to time by a little humour or light. Not even the merry men seem that merry (though it’s not for their lack of drinking). That said, it’s certainly not a bad film, far from it, and fans of Gladiator, or Ridley Scott or Russell Crowe’s output in general, will find lots to love here.