Robin Hood: Anatomy of a Clusterf*ck Or Origin Story? More like BORE-igin story.
Robin Hood is a disaster. True, you might not notice it right away. You might make it through 40, 50 minutes, an hour of it without realizing it. But like the women I make sex to, by the time it ends, you will be angry and disappointed, I guarantee it. If you aren’t, you weren’t paying attention. But hopefully, by remembering what happened here, we can prevent future disasters. NEVER AGAIN.
A few years back, Kelsey Grammer starred in a fact-based movie for HBO about the Bradley fighting vehicle. The gist of it was that Kelsey Grammer was overseeing a big defense contract to create this new military vehicle. It started out as a troop transport, but somewhere along the way, someone suggested that it should also have a big gun. So they gave it a big gun. Then someone else said it should be really fast, to do reconnaissance, so they tried to make it light and fast. Then someone else said that in addition to being light, it should have heavy armor to protect the passengers, so they gave it more armor. They kept trying to implement all these suggestions, and a billion dollars later, they had “a troop transport that can’t carry troops, a reconnaissance vehicle that’s too conspicuous to do reconnaissance, and a quasi-tank that has less armor than a snowblower, but carries enough ammo to take out half of D.C.”
Robin Hood is that vehicle.
It’s hard to say exactly what the final product even is, other than a waste of time and money. As far as I can tell, it’s equal parts half-ass Braveheart, revisionist history of the Magna Carta, and a two-hour trailer for some future sequel. Which, after sitting through Robin Hood, I have no interest in seeing.
At this point I must apologize, because in order to demonstrate just what a convoluted clusterf*ck this movie is, I have to get into some pretty heavy plot exposition. Spoilers may follow, but I promise it won’t matter because the plot doesn’t make sense anyway. Here, I’ll even mark off the expository stuff with some asterices in case you want to skip it.
We open with some fancy looking title cards showing text which is essentially a really long way of saying that when the government gets bad, the good people must become outlaws (dey took yer jobs!). England at the turn of the 12th century, we are told, “was just such a time.”
Next, we catch up to Russell Crowe (Robin Longstride), a common archer, fighting alongside King Richard the Lionheart as he plunders his way back through France on the way home from the Crusades. They’re trying to storm a French castle, but it’s holding tough, so some of the English guys attach bags of oil to it and shoot thousands of flaming arrows at them. You know, pretty much like the beginning of Gladiator.
As they wait for the French castle to burn, King Richard, (Danny Huston in ridiculous blue contact lenses), wonders aloud whether he’s doing the right thing and complains to his right-hand man, Robert Loxley, how hard it is to find an Englishman who’ll be honest with a king. Cue Robin Longstride. The king, who finds Robin in the midst of a spirited game of grabass with the man who will become Little John (Kevin Durand), asks Robin if he can give the king an honest answer. (Of course he can, he’s f*ckin’ Robin Hood!). The king asks Robin if God would be pleased with what the king has done in the crusades. Robin says no, and gives a long speech about all the horrible things he had to do to the Muslims, and how he could see the pity in the eyes of the women and children as he slaughtered them (you know, pretty much like Kingdom of Heaven). Pay close attention to this part about the Crusades, as it will NEVER COME UP AGAIN THE ENTIRE MOVIE.
Next thing you know, the battle is on again and the king gets shot in the neck and killed by a French cook. I guess this is supposed to be highly significant, because the only time the people in the French castle are shown at all is at this one moment, in order to make it abundantly clear that it was a simple cook who shot the king. Okay. Anarchy for the UK, or whatever.
Now the English throne will fall to Richard’s vain, selfish, sheltered younger brother, John. John seems to be a different generation than Richard, but we know they’re related because John wears the same ridiculous blue contact lenses as Richard (and also sports a shaved chest, incidentally). All you really need to know about John is that he’s exactly like Joaquin Phoenix’ character in Gladiator.
Meanwhile, off somewhere else, we meet a bald dude named Godfrey (Mark Strong). Through expository dialogue, we learn that Godfrey shared the same wetnurse as King Richard. Again, pay close attention here, because this fact will not be important to the rest of the movie in any way.
Godfrey is plotting to help France’s King Philip invade England. The French king needs Richard out of the way to weaken England enough that he can invade, and Godfrey promises to help him. Which at this point seems a bit unnecessary considering the king is already dead.
Back at the battle, Robin (Russell Crowe) and Little John and a few buddies hear that Richard is dead and decide to get the f*ck out of dodge, because, it is explained, you think it’s hard getting paid now, try squeezing money from a dead king. Meanwhile, Robert Loxley (the King’s right-hand dude, remember?), and a small detachment of knights take off with the dead King’s crown to speed word of his death back to England.
At this point, Robin’s band of archers fleeing the battle, Loxley’s knights transporting the King’s crown, and Godfrey’s band of mercenaries all happen upon each other at the same time, on their way through the same forest, on their way to different places. Get used to it, preposterous coincidences are going to become a theme here.
Godfrey’s men then attack and kill Loxley’s knights for some reason, and Robin’s men chase off Godfrey’s. With his dying words, Loxley gives Robin (whom he’s presumably never met until the day before) his sword, and makes Robin promise to return it to Loxley’s father in Nottingham. Robin has no choice but to agree.
Now, this part actually WILL be important later in the movie, it just won’t make any f*cking sense.
At this point, Robin decides he and his men should disguise themselves as the dead knights to get back to England. It’s a risky proposition, as a group of commoners traveling with the King’s crown would surely be taken for assassins. But Robin assures them that the only difference between commoners and nobility is fancy clothes (cooks can shoot kings! Commoners can become knights! Up is down! Black is white! Power to the people, motherf*cker!).
So now Robin (disguised as Robert Loxley) and his crew of clownish simpletons hitch a ride on a boat back to England. They show up to the palace, where Robin then has to deliver the news of the king’s death to the queen mum and Prince John. All the while, he prays that no one there knows that he’s not the real Robert Loxley because… uh… I guess they would get pissed or something. Luckily (I guess), no one is the wiser. Meanwhile, bad guy Godfrey is there for some reason, and so is King Richard’s trusted advisor, William Hurt. William Hurt starts giving advice to the new King John, but John doesn’t like hearing his bad news, like that the kingdom is running low on cash and people will starve if he tries to tax them more. Luckily, Godfrey is in the room at the same time for some reason, and he’s all like, “Whatever, yo, f*ck this guy, tax taxity tax tax.”
King John likes that idea, so he fires William Hurt and hires Godfrey on the spot, freeing him to roam the countryside plundering towns with his private army of Frenchmen.
Meanwhile, Robin and his boys head to Nottingham to deliver Robert Loxley’s sword, upon whose hilt Robin has discovered an inscription that seems strangely familiar. They arrive at Nottingham and Robin rolls up to Loxley’s pad where he finds Loxley’s widow, Marian, played by Cate Blanchett. She’s been running sh*t while her man’s been gone. She’s basically your typical Hollywood tough chick, who doesn’t take sh*t from anyone but will still need a strong man to save her in the end, because even though they want to write a strong female character like everyone says they should, they don’t really know how, so instead they just write the same female lead they’ve always written, except a little bitchier. Girl power! Anyway, Robin has to deliver the bad news to her and Loxley’s blind father, played by Max von Sydow. Loxley’s pops is sad about his dead son, but asks Robin to stick around and pretend to be the dead guy, because otherwise his land will have no heir and the government will get it (dey took yer crops!). Robin agrees, partly because the elder Loxley hints that he can explain why the inscription on the sword (“RISE AND RISE AGAIN, UNTIL LAMBS BECOME LIONS”) seems so familiar.
Sidenote: when Elder Loxley asks Marian to describe Robin to him, the first thing he asks is, “What color are his eyes?” Between this and the weird contacts for the King, Ridley Scott seems to have some eye-color issues.
So now that he’s pretending to be the dead guy, Robin has to shack up with Marian so the people will buy it. Two attractive people who don’t like each other at first forced to share quarters through wild circumstance? Uh oh, I smell a rom-com. Right, so they eventually grow to love each other, but to the movie’s credit (and my great surprise), this is accomplished without the use of a montage.
Next we meet Friar Tuck, who keeps bees and makes mead out of the honey. Which is convenient, because now Little John and the other jackasses have something to get drunk off of (they’re basically the comic relief hobbits like in Lord of the Rings). Meanwhile, the town is starving because poachers stole their grain from the storehouse, and what little they have, Tuck is supposed to send off to the Bishop in York as a tax (DEY TOOK DERT-DERR!). So Tuck and Robin concoct a scheme in which Robin and his men hijack Nottingham’s grain and bring it back to Nottingham, and no one will be the wiser. So they do. Then they plant the grain, get drunk on mead, and everyone parties. Oh, did I mention one of Robin’s men is a singer? He sings songs for the drunk, well-fed townspeople who love their new Robert Loxley. (Note: This was Russell Crowe’s idea). We know all is well because the old man stares longingly at a campfire.
Now that things are good, Godfrey and his Frenchmen have to come wreck sh*t. So Godfrey rolls into Nottingham and starts f*cking sh*t up, and Robin sends word to William Hurt and King John that (Sacre bleu!) Godfrey’s gang is French, and Godfrey has been secretly preparing England for a French invasion.
Now, you might wonder: since Godfrey became King John’s butt buddy after King Richard died and was given carte blanche to use the entire country as his personal fiefdom, why would he want to still help the French, who he only just met at the beginning of the movie, take over the country and presumably make his sweetheart deal obsolete? Well, I wondered that too. If you think of something, let me know.
It’s at this point in the movie that the wise old man has to bust out the old “I know something about your past.” And what he knows about Robin’s past is that Robin’s father was a great philosopher with a way with words and a powerful idea: that “rulers have a need of their subjects.” (Really, that’s pretty much all we learn about his powerful idea). When Robin was a young boy, his father gathered the Lords of the land and had them sign a pact agreeing with this statement, and for that, the king had Robin’s father put to death. The inscription on the sword was actually written (DUNT DUNT DUNNNN!) by Robin’s father.
Hold up, did you catch that? Apparently, when we caught up with Robin at the beginning of the movie, he had just up and forgot that he was from Nottingham. Then some guy he thought he didn’t know gave him a sword, which turned out to have been forged by Robin’s own father. That sword’s new owner then unknowingly led Robin back to Robin’s own home town, all because of a preposterously opportune chance meeting in a forest. Yet Robin seems unimpressed with the gravity of this coincidence. Nonetheless, he tells Little John and the other retards about the inscription on his sword.
“But what does it mean?” they ask.
“It means never give up.”
Wow. Powerful stuff. Truly a dangerous idea worth dying for. They probably would’ve chopped your hand off for wearing a Livestrong bracelet back then.
So where were we? Right, Godfrey is wrecking sh*t, the French are about to invade, and the English are sitting ducks because the nobles are all divided and angry at the king over his unfair taxation. That’s where Robin comes in. He’s got this contract drawn up by his father (it was hidden under a rock for the last 20 years) and signed by all the nobles (we’ll just assume it’s kind of like the Magna Carta since we don’t actually know what the f*ck’s in it). If Robin can get the king to sign it (because he needs to nobles to fight the French), he can unite the nobles and beat off the French (no homo).
What follows is basically the sequence in Braveheart in which William Wallace unites the nobles and the “They make take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!” speech scene, both combined into one, supersh*tty Russell Crowe monologue that explains the concept of consent of the governed in the lamest way possible. Imagine a Schoolhouse Rock song filled with farts. “Government is an agreement between the ruler and subject.” (*fart*)
Then there’s a battle sequence, and it’s your basic battle sequence. Maid Marian is there, dressed like a man for some reason. She goes after Godfrey, shouting “this is for Robert!” (Remember? The dead guy we never cared about?) Russell Crowe flails around in the water for a while.
The English eventually win, though I’m not sure why we’d care. We don’t really know anything about the French, and what we do know of the English is that their government is tyrannical and poorly managed. Uh, hooray?
So then King John burns the Magna Carta, proving himself to be the same prick we assumed he was at the beginning of the movie, and declares Robin Hood to be the noble outlaw we already assumed he was from the title. Then we see Robin Hood and Marian and Little John, hangin’ in the forest, singin’ songs and bein’ nice to little kids. Basically, the opening of the Robin Hood story we all already know, only it took two hours of complete nonsense to get there. The End. ROLL CREDITS, PREPARE HOOKERS AND COCAINE.
In the case of many sh*tty movies (and to be fair, you could do a lot worse than this one, at least it looks pretty), the big question is “how did this happen?” With Robin Hood, we actually have a pretty good idea.
About three years ago, Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris wrote a script called Nottingham, which became sort of a hot property around town. Supposedly it told the story of Robin Hood, but from a perspective sympathetic to the Sheriff, who in this version was a good guy trying to protect polite society as a medieval, “‘CSI’-style forensics investigator.”
It gets bought by Imagine Entertainment and Russell Crowe signs on to star. Then they bring in Ridley Scott to direct. Only at this point, the story begins to change. Reportedly, “Ridley’s interest took him in a different direction.”
At some point, Robin-Hood-from-the-perspective of the Sheriff becomes Robin and the Sheriff are the same person like some Fight Club thing. Then Brian Helgeland comes in to do a rewrite, the whole project gets delayed, and Ridley Scott is apparently “obsessed” with archery. Then they bring in a new writer, Paul Webb. A producer says:
“This is an enduring myth that people love,” says Shmuger. “It’s a story that offers a new understanding of the origins of a real folk hero. You get a real understanding of–this is how Robin Hood became an outlaw and this is how those guys became the Merry Men of Sherwood Forest. Ridley’s vision of the movie is very visceral, very physical–you’re really in the forest, pulling back a giant bow.” [Uh, what?]
So now it’s an origin story, apparently. That’s the tune Brian Grazer starts to sing.
The strange part is (or the sadly predictable part, depending on your perspective), none of the original ideas made the final cut. There’s no two-aspects-of-the-same-person story (thank God), and the original, sympathetic, CSI Sheriff is barely in the movie at all. In fact, the Sheriff ends up being so completely irrelevant to the final story that he ends up being like a vestigial organ of the original script (a story we’ll never get to see now).
The only thing that makes any sense in the entire movie (and I suspect this was the studio’s doing) was the ending, where all the familiar Robin Hood characters take their familiar places, and the idea of it as an origin story for some future Robin Hood franchise. Only you’re left wondering both why, if it was going to end at the beginning, you’d wasted your time watching this two-hour prologue; and if this extended trailer for a future movie was so convoluted and sh*tty, why you’d want to stay for the next chapter of the same story. Between this and Iron Man 2 (which was much better than this but still not great), I’m a little worried about the trend towards movies becoming extended advertisements for future movies.
Dear Hollywood: You guys are having a hard enough time making a compelling stand-alone movie. I’d suggest you focus on that before you start thinking franchise. People will want a sequel if the movie’s good. It won’t matter how much you “set it up” if people are already tired of the first one before the credits even roll.
Moreover, why spend a bunch of money on a script that everyone likes, which some guys probably spent five years writing, then find some hired gun screenwriter with no personal investment in the project to spend two weeks implementing the suggestions of 10 different producers who probably put five minutes of actual thought into the story? This is an idiotic way of doing things. And it sure sucks for the guys who wrote a good script, who, when people ask what they’ve done, have to say they wrote that Robin Hood movie that didn’t make any sense, even though what people saw had nothing to do with what they actually wrote.