Director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe’s last collaboration was the multi-award-winning ‘Gladiator’, which I admit I really didn’t care much for, so I came to their ‘Robin Hood’ remake with trepidation. And in all honesty I really liked it – it’s a 2 1/2 hour epic, with a surprisingly strong script, some funny dialogue (some terrible dialogue too) and intelligent direction; it’s highly entertaining too. Of course it’s helped by some knockout performances – Crowe hogs the screen without much effort with his Robin (now Longstride), but he’s more than matched by the outstanding Cate Blanchett as Maid Marion (now Marion Loxley). I’ll grant that noone tries to reinvent the wheel – why American William Hurt was cast as William Marshal is a complete mystery, and Crowe never strays too far from his trademark gruff persona, but somehow it all works. It’s a film which should either have been a complete retread or be completely dark and brooding, but Scott infuses his rebooted Hood drama with considerable charm, despite its length.
Robin Longstride starts the film fighting the French under King Richard (Danny Huston), on the return from the Crusades. Demoralised by their army’s brutality and excess, Longstride and his ‘merry’ friends return to England after Richard’s assassination, promising also-assassinated Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge) to return his sword to his father. Meanwhile his assassin Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong, now thoroughly Alan Rickman-ised by the film world) plays both the English the French off against each other, in the hope of power for himself following a successful French invasion. It’s a long story, hinging around Longstride’s adoption of Loxley’s identity in order to prevent Blanchett from having her property seized by the Crown. Of course the two end up together, of course Robin starts to battle injustice by the Crown, of course King John enters the fray, and of course there’s a climactic showdown on the beaches (mystifyingly bloodless at that) in which the good guys win and the bad guys lose. Or do they…?
It’s probably too long, the beach landing shamelessly (and needlessly) evokes ‘Saving Private Ryan’s Normandy landings, and the initial story set-up is probably far too involved (although the ending marks the film as an opening salvo in a new franchise attempt) but screenwriter Brian Helgeland weaves an involving yarn despite the script’s occasional excesses. It’s a welcome change under a director normally far better at delivering set pieces than a strong narrative. And Oscar Isaac positively commands the screen as a thoroughly villainous (and often hilarious, yet never crossing the line into pantomime) King John, chewing every scene he’s in for all it’s worth, his character never quite playing his hand until the final act. Those expecting a traditional Robin vs Sheriff (Matthew Macfadyen) romp will have to wait until the inevitable sequel, and those expecting more accent consistency than Prince of Thieves will be similarly (though not so thoroughly) disappointed, but this is a good start for ‘new’ Robin. We’ve had ‘Batman Begins’, now so does Robin.