Prince of Thieves rallies the Magna Carta __ 5/10
So whatever you think you know about Robin Hood, throw it out the window before inserting this DVD in the player. Otherwise, it will conflict with not only history but with every account of the band of merrie men we all grew up with… from the 1950s TV series on Disney, to Robin and Marian with Sir Sean Connery (1979), to Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in 1991. And I guess there’s a Robin Hood BBC TV series available, who knew? Finally, another one I haven’t seen but may be the best of the bunch, the original Hollywood Errol Flynn version the Adventures of Robin Hood. It’s a trip to browse Robin Hood on Netflix or Amazon.
Anyway, Ridley Scott—director of Gladiator, Alien, Blade Runner, and many other notable works—must have taken several tokes of primo Columbian and decided this time he was going to take the legend of Robin Hood, about which no one seems to know what’s genuine, and play it deuces wild. Basically I don’t have a problem with playing a legend every which way but loose, but I do have a few reservations about making historical reality fit the myth: Scott’s Hood, living toward the end of the 11th century, is connected directly both to the Crusades (1090ish-1290ish) and to the Magna Carta (1215). Indeed, if I understand the film correctly, Robin’s father is the actual author of the Magna Carta, or a document much like it, that Robin and his merrie barons seek to have the King of England adopt.
I mentioned to a fellow movie fan that by confusing the history like this, Scott is playing with fire. We have all these American children trying to make their way in the government schools, not learning how to read or to write, getting most of their world understanding from movies and TV. They’re going to walk away from this film thinking Robin Hood signed the Magna Carta and possibly the Declaration of Independence. How are they going to score more than 200 on their SATs with such a barrage of misinformation? Way harsh.
Of course, we only see the father of Robin Longstride in retrospective. In real time, we get a completely bizarro-world sequence of events that take Robin and his men from somewhere in France, like 1090 AD—supposedly at the end of the Crusades—in the heat of attacking a castle, then, well I don’t want to spoil the plot…
Okay, it doesn’t really matter because there isn’t really a plot per se: Robin is an archer, has a bunch of guys who are, like, his friends, they basically use the king’s death to head back to England. Run into a mean, slick French-guy villain named Godfrey (Mark Strong) who postures as a Brit. Robin feels a mission to go to Nottingham, runs into Marian (Cate Blanchett), finds Friar Tuck who makes some mean mead. Well, Little John (Kevin Durand) has to have some lines, too, and the men are horny from being away in the Crusades with the crazy king. You see what’s coming: it’s the party scene like from the third Matrix movie, only with mead and some voluptuous white chicks, one or more for every merrie man.
Marian is a hardworking widow of a knight, daughter-in-law to Sir Walter Loxley (Max van Sydow). She resists the advances of the Nottingham sheriff and has issues with the crown and the church making her life miserable with taxes and hoarding all the grain, respectively. Loxley sees Robin as filling the role of Marian husband number two, but dissembling as husband number one. Women can’t own property and Loxley is reaching his end of days. Van Sydow does a fine job, IMHO, with a great stentorian voice lending gravitas to the proceedings, however chaotic the writers make them. He treats Robin as his own son, shares wisdom.
So here we are in Nottingham, Robin and Marian are beginning to warm to each other, the men are content to drink all day and carouse all night, the friar helps spring the grain loose so Loxley/Marian’s estate can grow food, the sun is shining, the countryside gorgeous, and the colored girls go doop da doop da doop da doop. What could possibly go wrong? Well cue ball Godfrey, for one, has made a deal with a French would be invader royal figure (I think a king) and at the same time works with the small-minded, goofball new English king who wants to rip off the peasants and the land barons even more than his brother did for the Crusades.
For some reason, in making the rounds for tribute to the new English king, Godfrey homes in on Nottingham. Oh yeah, that’s back from another confrontation where Robin Hood shot an arrow that scarred his pretty face, and Godfrey remembers, recognizes, and finds out that Robin has gone to Nottingham. Wait, there’s more. Godfrey has also made a deal with the French guy to bring over a lead bunch of French marauders to cause trouble and prep for a bigger invasion. Godfrey’s insiders and marauders proceed to Nottingham, make a ruckus, that happens while Robin is away generating support for a charter of rights via the noblemen land barons.
At this juncture Robin Hood is elevated to a political leader articulating the hopes and dreams of a new age of liberty, equality for the common man, where “his home is his castle.” Uniting all good Englishmen against tyranny, both from the goofy new king and from these evil French marauders that seem hellbent on raping and pillaging without so much as giving the townies one last fine-pastry run. The atrocities! Pretty much a comic book ending with a battle that conjures up Lord of the Rings. The goofy king at first decides to fight with the Hood-led libertarian peasant-baron rebellion and expel the invaders, but, let’s see, that might close off the opportunity for a sequel… Movie ends with:
… Robin Hood, the legend begins…
So no dice on stopping this jive turkey dead in its tracks. Afraid we are stuck with a continuation. I’ll bet Academy Award winners Crowe and Blanchett will sue their agents if for some reason they signed agreements to return in the roles of Robin and Marian. It’s truly an unbelievably awful film… but kind of entertainingly bad, and Crowe and Blanchett and van Sydow and William Hurt are good. I love the sets, especially the sea and channel vessels. My goodness, what a rugged life in those days. Even the palaces of the time afford the royal family not so much comfort as the lowest street person on Santa Monica Boulevard.
In watching this version of Robin Hood, I’m reminded of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Hour: Peabody’s Fractured History. Or most of those Saturday Night Live skits back in the 1970s and 1980s. Large doses of ropey dopey have to be involved. 🙂
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