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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Movie Review: Robin Hood

I had high hopes for this addition to the Robin Hood canon. The trailers promised a new take on the folktale and lots of action. And it gives you a bit of both, but it does so with a lackluster plot, poor character development, and some uneven acting. Consider this my short review, because everything after the movie poster will contain spoilers.

Robin Hood is actually a prequel. You wouldn't know from the trailers, though. In fact, my friend and I didn't know it was a prequel until the end of the movie. It takes place during the Crusades. King Richard the Lionheart has been waging war for ten years while his brother, Prince John, and his mother, are taking care of the kingdom in England. Robin Longstride (a.k.a. Robin Hood) is an ordinary archer in King Richard's army who, along with his companions, has fallen out of favor with the King. When King Richard is killed by an arrow, Robin and his companions make an escape for England, masquerading as knights to report the news back to Prince John (now the King). John, however, is not the King everyone wants him to be and plots from France to take over England have the English turning against the King and their fellow countrymen. Robin will have to unite the people before the King and the French destroy everything.
Robin Hood had potential. The concept was a good one, the possibility of good character development was there, and returning to this franchise was a good chance to show some beautiful landscapes. The film succeeds in only the last of these possibilities. Visually, Robin Hood is gorgeous. The costumes look wonderful, even when they're dirty, and the landscapes and cinematography are stunning. I am surprised that there are still so many places in the world that have barely been touched by humans, and even more surprised that some of these places still look unfamiliar.

The rest of the movie, however, is loaded with problems. The cast is a mixed bag. Russell Crowe is flat and lifeless, which clashes with the often humorous secondary characters (Little John, Will Scarlet, Marion, and so on). Other characters either have no screen time whatsoever, but yet are important to the plot, or are portrayed as stereotypes. Prince John is your typical stuck up rich royalty who knows sod all about being King; if they were going to update Robin Hood's story, they could have made John less of a petulant child--it seemed like they were drawing too much on the Disney animated feature from decades back. Most of the clergy are equally typical, which is probably true, but still lazy storytelling. The best characters are actually the second characters; the actors that play Little John, Will Scarlet, and so on all seem to have wonderful chemistry, and their on-screen antics make for a lot of laughs. If only more of this chemistry could have existed between other actors.

Character development, unfortunately also takes a hit. This is primarily due to the plot, which felt rushed in the last three quarters of the movie. Characters magically develop skills that they didn't seem to have before. Marion, for example, becomes a warrior woman in the end, which is laughable not because she's a woman, but because she is never displayed as being warrior-like--stern and collected does not equal woman knight. Likewise, the strange thieves from the forest, who have been stealing from Marion and her family for months, all of sudden join forces with Marion to fight the French at the end of the movie. Why? No idea. How did they manage to agree on things? Ditto. But it's integral to the ending, because without a truce with the people of the forest, Robin Hood would never be Robin Hood. And then there's the last minutes of the movie, in which King John, having managed to unite his people against the French by promising them liberty, reneges on his promise, which sparks little more than a few complaints. The problem? King John had to promise liberty because his people were about to wage war against him. Yet, in the end, no war. How odd that the people just magically give in when they were seconds from fighting the King only a few weeks before.

These are just a few of the problems with the movie. Overall, while I have to say that I did enjoy it, I also feel like it could have been so much better. The first three quarters of the movie aren't bad, and I did really like the angle of the French invasion, but you can't take a decent start and throw out the cinema cookbook in the end. Endings are as important as beginnings, and if one of them fails, the whole movie goes to crap. This is definitely not one of Ridley Scott's best.

If you plan to see Robin Hood, go to a matinee, or wait for it to hit DVD--maybe they'll have some extra footage that will clear up some of the illogical plot elements.

Directing: 2.50/5
Cast: 2.75/5
Writing: 1.0/5
Visuals: 4.5/5
Adaptation: N/A (I don't know enough about Robin Hood beyond the various other films out there)
Overall: 2.6875/5
Value: $5.00 (based on a $10.50 max)

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