The good news for Russell Crowe and Robin Hood is that it does remind you of one of the great movies about the Middle Ages. The bad news is that that movie is Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
This fantastically inept and bizarrely shapeless blob of a movie becomes laughable almost immediately, when Cate Blanchett’s Lady Marion steps up and fires an arrow hundreds of yards with blistering accuracy despite being approximately the weight of a longbow herself.
Russell Crowe’s Robin Longstride is a hazily defined figure who first finds himself fighting for a king he can’t stand, the crusader Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston, whose Pippi Longstocking/Robert Plant hairdo makes it hard to imagine anyone would be happy to go to war on his behalf), then (in what is played as a heroic moment) robs a dead knight named Robert of Locksley of his equipment and valuables, deciding to pass himself off as the dead man for as long as he can get away with it. Fully an hour of the movie goes by in which the major challenge is whether or not Robin can make good on his promise to the dying Locksley — to deliver his sword to his family up in Nottingham. Yes, this movie is about as exciting as a UPS run.
Meanwhile, Prince John (a whiny Oscar Isaac) takes advantage of Richard’s death to seize the crown — but he is even more of a jerk than his dead brother. He bickers endlessly with his mother and his chancellor (William Hurt) about taxation, finally deciding to send the evil knight Godfrey (the perpetually scowling Mark Strong, who was also the bad guy in Kick-Ass and Sherlock Holmes) to shake down the country’s landowners with orders to pay up or pay with their lives. Godfrey is secretly working for the French king, but why should we care? It’s not as though we’re given any reason to hope things work out for the mincing, duplicitous John, who is so foolish he actually seem surprised that this marauding psychopath is a double agent. “My friend Godfrey is not the friend I thought he was,” he muses. No kidding.
Nothing else in the movie sparks any reaction other than disbelief. Not the dumb dialogue that veers wildly back and forth between prithee-milady type ye olde speeches, awkward japery, and gratingly contemporary chatter. “Leave no stone unscorched!” goes one typical would-be rousing line. Yep, burn some rocks. That’ll teach em. When Robin first meets Marion, she says, “Plain Robin Longstride? No ‘Sir’?” “No ‘Sir,’ no Ma’am,” he responds. Forsooth, ’tis not funny. When John fires his chancellor, he tells the court the man is leaving “to spend more time with his family.”
Equally ridiculous are the action scenes (it’s 1199 and no one seems to find it worth commenting upon that the finest soldier anyone has ever met is a woman aristocrat — I laughed during the climactic battle when a knight’s visor is raised and Blanchett is shown to be underneath. Could Cate Blanchett even wear a suit of armor without falling over, much less wield a longsword better than men who outweigh her by a hundred pounds?).
When Robin and his men attack a French castle by creating the kind of giant fireball you’d normally associate with a mid-80s Stallone flick, I was reminded of the equally unlikely tactics in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which men hurl cows at each other. Later in the movie, there is a direct quote from the John Cleese Black Knight scene in Holy Grail, when a highwayman stands in the path of a group of travelers and barks, “None shall pass!”
The utter lack of chemistry between Crowe and Blanchett — two classic hambones — is papered over by a script that demands Lady Marion immediately take a dislike to Robin (for no reason). When her father-in-law (Max von Sydow, playing a blind geezer who does the obligatory business in which he runs his hands all over the face of Robin to find out what he “looks like”– do blind people actually do this anywhere but in movies?) makes Marion and Robin share a room together, she threatens to cut off his manhood with a dagger if he comes near her. Then she goes behind a translucent curtain to put on a little show of taking off her nightie — the saucy-silhouette cliche. But the feuding couple go for a horseback ride together and — poof! — suddenly they’re in love. Even in 21st century England, you’d be hard-pressed to find an aristocratic lady falling for a mason’s son and common foot soldier.
Nearly 100 minutes of the film pass before there is an apparent point to Robin’s drifting life: He finds out his late father was a pioneer for democracy and vows to fight for a charter that will give individuals full rights. This is kind of inconvenient in that it means Robin is now fighting on behalf of the swinish John (against the French), but the movie think it’s being clever by tying Robin Hood to the Magna Carta that was signed in 1215. This is about as wobbly a concept in the political and historical senses as Cate-the-warrior is physically.
The Magna Carta was created by barons for barons, not for the underclass. They would have just laughed if a working-class slob like Robin Hood had suggested that he should be their political and military leader. “You build a country like you build a cathedral — from the ground up,” Robin tells the nobles. Er, thanks, Karl Marx, but no one in 1199 England is asking for a peasant-ocracy.