Ridley Scott’s plodding, pointless Robin Hood calls to mind a line from a stand-up routine (link NSFW) Patton Oswalt did a few years ago about George Lucas’ limp Star Wars prequels: “I don’t give a s**t where the stuff I love comes from. I just love the stuff I love.” Though there was never any discernible desire among filmgoers to know what the mythical medieval outlaw’s early days were like, Scott nonetheless spent $230 million to tell us.
And so precious little of Robin Hood is devoted to all of the stuff we love about the title character — you know, the stunning displays of archery skill, the robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, etc. Instead, we’re forced to watch as the future folk legend, who begins the film as a lowly infantryman in King Richard’s crusading army, engages in significantly less riveting endeavors, like gambling with fellow soldiers in between sieges, arguing against the killing of defenseless Muslims, planting a wheat field just in time for the rainy season, and debating the merits of the Magna Carta (which we learn, through Scott’s usage of lame repressed-memory flashbacks, that his father actually wrote).
Needless to say, this isn’t Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood (which, say what you will, was at least entertaining), but a gritty, period-authentic, “real” take on the character, absent all the usual Hollywood gloss and polish. Scott’s faux-revisionist approach calls for copious hand-held camera work, a subdued color palette, and various other cinematic devices (but no blood — this is PG-13, after all) meant to properly depict the nasty and brutish reality of existence in the early 13th century. Dirt and grime are omnipresent, and all of the actors appear as if they haven’t bathed or shaved for days. Poor Cate Blanchett, usually radiant even when dressed down, looks positively ghastly as old Maid Marion.
For the lead role, naturally, Scott tabbed his trusty pal Russell Crowe, the very embodiment of modern actorly grit, who in Robin Hood perpetually bears the weathered sneer of a man awakened too early after a roaring bender. His principal adversary is not the Sheriff of Nottingham, whose role is reduced to that of comic relief, but Godfrey (Mark Strong), a scheming, Rasputin-like advisor to the throne of England who secretly conspires to aid her greatest enemy, France.
Unfortunately, Robin and Godfrey share almost no screen time together, draining much of the potential weight from their conflict. Their rivalry is mainly played out by proxy, with a former royal functionary (William Hurt, looking as lost and confused as we are) acting as a go-between while our Robin labors vainly to imbue a semblance of believability to his hasty courtship of recently-widowed Marion. His effort, among other things, involves an audacious narrative switcheroo reminiscent — I s**t you not — of this scene from the 2006 comedy Beerfest.
It goes without saying that drawing comparisons to a movie called Beerfest does not bode well for a serious-minded period epic. If there’s a silver lining to be drawn from Robin Hood, it’s that the filmmakers mercifully chose not to release a 3D version of the film, indicating that there was at least one kind soul at Universal Pictures who couldn’t bear the thought of some poor sap paying $19 to watch this medieval monstrosity.