Film Review

Why So Serious, Robin Hood?

Merry indeed: Russell Crowe is all scowls in Ridley Scott’s glimpse into Sherwood Forest.

By Matthew Halverson May 14, 2010

Robin and his…merry men?

I must have my medieval legends mixed up, because I thought Robin Hood was a lovable scoundrel. A dashing hero. A bow-and-arrow-toting totem of populist dissent who’s as generous with roguish smiles as he is with the bounty he poaches from fat cat kings. I thought he was, you know, fun. And maybe he was, but apparently not before he was a dour, soul-searching, all-business-and-no-swagger warrior with daddy issues.

There’s nothing remotely fun about Robin Hood, and that wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad thing (hello, The Dark Knight) if it hadn’t been a boring, convoluted, self-serious mess, too. Director Ridley Scott ( Gladiator ) knows that after approximately 83 previous big-screen trips to Nottingham, you’re probably suffering from Sherwood Forest fatigue. So he decided to mix things up with an origin story: Before he was an outlaw, Robin Longstride was an archer in King Richard’s 12th-century army, driven to prove himself to the father he thinks abandoned him. But then the cocksure king dies in battle and Robin goes AWOL. And then—intrigue!—there’s a double-agent in successor King John’s court who’s actually working for the French. Monsieur McTwoface starts sacking small English towns with his army of French soldiers while claiming to be collecting taxes on behalf of King John. And then the put-upon people of England start spouting Tea Party talking points about liberty without taxation and—wait a minute, wasn’t this supposed to be about Robin Hood?

Had Russell Crowe played the title role with verve or charm, he might have saved the unnecessarily complex story by screenwriter Brian Helgeland. But instead his Robin is all growls and gravitas, so by the time he rides to the king’s rescue with a pack of feral kids in tow, drains his quiver, and retreats to the forest with his band of not-so-merry men, all we’re left to wonder is: Maybe this was a backstory better left untold.

Robin Hood opens nationwide on May 14.

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