Let me start off by saying this: I’m a fan of King Arthur.

I know, I know, this is Robin Hood.  But I do mean King Arthur.  The one I’m referring to, more specifically, is the 2004 version, directed by Antoine Fuqua with Clive Owen as the title character.  I only saw it once, but I remember enjoying it because of the realism it brought to the Arthurian legend.  It wasn’t the most historically accurate, but it grounded the legend with an attempt to place him into a realistic setting.  That I enjoyed.

That’s the same idea, I presume, brought to Robin Hood, wherein the legend is placed within as close to a historically accurate setting as possible.  Granted, liberties are taken, but it’s nothing overwhelming to make one complain.  The same could be said for Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, where again some liberties were taken.

This is probably why we have the “historical fiction” genre of literature and film.

As for this film, Scott set it as a prequel to the outlaw Robin, when he robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.  This Robin Hood (using his given name Robin Longstride) fights in the English army for King Richard the Lionheart during the last of the crusades.  Robin is dismayed with the actions taken by King Richard (the film opens with them laying siege to a castle in France), and decides to leave the army with a few of his fellow commoners (Will Scarlet, Little John, and Allan A’Dayle).  King Richard is killed in battle, and his personal guard is ambushed by Godfrey, an English spy for the French.  Robin assumes the role of Robert Loxley (one of the king’s personal knights), heads off to Nottingham to return Robert’s sword to his father, and eventually courts Maid Marion, who was married to Robert.  Elsewhere, Richard’s brother John becomes king after his death and rules quite unjustly, Godfrey pillages England, in the name of the king, with the French assisting him, and other different plots ravel and spin around until the final battle on the southern coast of England.

Yes, there is a lot going on, but it all works.  I imagine that there will be the eventual director’s cut release (this movie clocked in at 150 minutes) that will expand on portions of the plot lines, making things a bit smoother (it definitely helped with Kingdom of Heaven).  The film is beautifully shot, both with the choreography and the battle sequences (of which there are several).  The acting was well done, though some of the characters were mere set pieces that didn’t get much; unfortunately, it was the early version of the Merry Men of Sherwood forest that didn’t get much characterizations, between the drunkards of Robin’s personal guard and the feral children that would eventually form part of the Merry Men.  The movie moves though with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett as the leads.  They are both solid and very reliable.

Mark Strong, sadly, is now being typecast into every villain role imaginable.  Then again, he has the look of Evil Bastard That’s Up to No Good, so it does kind of work.  Four movies in six months as the villain though?  Someone cut this guy a break.

As for the realism, I actually did enjoy it.  I know the main portrayal of Robin Hood as always been of the “merry” sort, dressed in green, with the pointed feather cap and his band of men always up to no good (but, up for good, dependent on view point).  And, they have fun too.  The legend of Robin Hood is, I suppose, a happy one (just see Mel Brooks’ “Men in Tights”).  Scott’s Robin Hood isn’t, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be.  Given the setting (late 12th century England), it wasn’t necessarily a fun time – or a fun place for that matter – to live.  With the kings always asking for more money, people often live off of nothing: food, water, clothing, etc.  Frankly, it sucks.

And that’s what I probably liked most about this version of Robin Hood: it helps establish the legend by placing him in a very accurate setting (again, historical liberties aside) and actually showing just how difficult life was, and how one man with his (eventual) band of merry followers made all sorts of trouble for the king because of his unjust ways.

Kudos indeed.

B+

Note: Russell Crowe a few days ago spoke of an eventual sequel that goes into the legend of Robin Hood itself.  I’m not necessarily holding my breath on that: medieval movies don’t generally make a lot of money domestically, and with the budget being as high as it is (over $200 million), the movie needs to make a lot of money to break even, and probably even more to create a sequel.  I would gladly see one made, but the chances of that aren’t very good.  But, we shall see.

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