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The UnPopular Opinion: Robin Hood

12.31.2015

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

Do you remember seeing GLADIATOR in the theater? It was a sweeping, action-packed epic that was long absent from the big screen for a long time. Ridley Scott's film revitalized the swords and sandals sub-genre and yet very few films lived up to the same grandeur and critically success of the 2000 winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture. Scott's career also never quite met the same critical success until this year's THE MARTIAN. But, in the last fifteen years, Ridley Scott has delivered several films that have been better than others would lead you to believe. One such film is ROBIN HOOD, a revisionist take on the iconic British legend that deserves an equal place alongside GLADIATOR both in Scott's filmography and in cinematic history. ROBIN HOOD takes the same approach to storytelling as GLADIATOR and presents a man who would be legend but was still just a man. And it is through stories like that in which we find some of the greatest movie epics.

One of the most popular reboot formats in the last decade has been to take iconic stories back to their origin, but a little before where we typically find the character. Christopher Nolan's BATMAN BEGINS seems to have been the template that many of these reboots follow and the results have been varied. ROBIN HOOD is one of the worthy exceptions as it allows Ridley Scott to use his directorial prowess to give us some massive battle sequences while combining them with the dramatic weight that he brought to KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. ROBIN HOOD is a spiritual sequel to both GLADIATOR and KINGDOM OF HEAVEN and should have launched at least one sequel. With a cast this stellar and the tease of more slings and arrows, ROBIN HOOD should be hitting theaters with additional chapters every couple of years.

The marketing campaign that this is not your father's ROBIN HOOD sounds a little goofy but in hindsight, they are absolutely right. Unlike the Errol Flynn or Kevin Costner versions of the character, Russell Crowe presents a character who does not start off as noble or righteous. This Robin is a deserter from the military after proclaiming the failures of his king. Robin Longstride could give two f*cks about stealing from the rich to give to the poor at the outset but rather takes the name of a fallen knight to return and tell his country that the king they hailed was not the man they thought. You could argue that there is no need for such a convoluted backstory to a simple tale, but it imbues the legend with a more realistic bend that allows you to believe these events could have fallen into place. But also keep in mind, this story is before Sherwood Forest and before the Sherrif of Nottingham. This is a true origin that teases the traditional story is still to come.

All of the key elements of the story are still here, though angled in such a way as to give a different development for the characters involved. Marian is still a gutsy and strong-willed woman and played impeccably by Cate Blanchett, but she starts out thinking of Robin as a scoundrel and a curr as he impersonates her dead husband as to retain the Loxley family land in Nottingham. This Marian is not in love with Robin from the get go but has to learn that he is more than a liar and a thief. This Robin is not noble nor a man of any means; his father was a stonemason and Robin himself was a mere soldier in King Richard's army and not an officer or hero. Whereas Maximus in GLADIATOR was one of the most decorated soldiers in the Roman forces, this man is just a man. That theme continues to pop up through the film as we see him rise to the level of myth fitting the traditional Robin Hood story.

There are many who find the origin central to ROBIN HOOD to be wholly unnecessary. But, if you look at the traditional tale, we are just meant to assume Robin is a hero, the Sherrif is the villain, Prince John is another villain, and Marian loves her Robin. Here, Prince John is still an incompetent ruler but is also a charismatic adversary who you cannot underestimate. Oscar Isaac gives John a slimeball quality that makes you want to like him as much as you instantly hate him. There is no Sherrif of Nottingham (well, not until the very end of the film), but we instead get the always awesome Mark Strong as Sir Godfrey. Godfrey hits the same characters notes as the Sherrif but now is a duplicitous traitor both fighting Robin and John at the same time. It is his plot with the French to invade England that allies Robin and John against a common foe. I have always loved seeing enemies when they were strange bedfellows and this is no exception. It also justifies John's bounty on the head of Robin more once the lowly archer becomes the most popular man in the kingdom.

By setting the film in forests and using the elements to his advantage, Ridley Scott creates a tactile world. You feel as if the film has transported you to 12th Century Europe. It is also a credit to PAYBACK and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL writer Brian Helgeland who delivers some excellent dialogue. Russell Crowe once again shows why he is perfect for roles like this and makes you believe that there could have truly been a Robin Hood. As much as I love previous versions of this story, Ridley Scott makes this a film worth watching and also worth rewatching. Mediocre Ridley Scott movies are still more entertaining than a lot of films Hollywood releases because Scott is a master of composing action sequences while still capturing the humanity and soul of the characters without compromise. 

The only fault I could make with ROBIN HOOD is that it is designed to have sequels which we may never see, leaving the story as incomplete. Hollywood has become inundated with franchise starters that do not always pan out which only starts stories and doesn't finish them. I want to know how Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe would have told the story of who Robin Hood was once he fully became the outlaw who steals from the rich to give to the poor. I would love to see Matthew MacFayden's Sherrif go toe to toe with Robin and Prince John continue to twirl his mustache. Even the opportunity to see Cate Blanchett come back and get in on the action as Marian would be more than enough to keep me interested. This is ROBIN HOOD for more sophisticated audiences and not always a crowd-pleaser, but I find it hard to believe you leave this movie not fully entertained.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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