Went out with Jon, Siz and Greg (a different Greg, Jon’s next-year housemate rather than mine) to see Robin Hood (pretty much randomly selected.) It’s good to do things with friends, I’ve felt a bit reclusive lately. Anyway – while I’m hardly a proper Robin Hood nerd, I’m much more acquainted with him than with King Arthur, having (among other adulterations) read Roger Lancelyn Green’s truly lovely and deeply tragic version as a little boy, which I still remember well.
The first two acts of the film were not bad, it must be said. Not a Robin Hood film, but still not bad.
It begins with narration and titles in a wannabe-medieval font. Shit. Telling rather than showing, clear sign of lazy lazy filmmaking. Still, what are they saying? They’re saying… the kind of lunatic anti-government rhetoric I’m used to seeing from the furthest-right /k/ommandos. Double shit. (Inb4 “grab my
SKS longbow, go inna woods”). After which, the actual content begins with an assault on a castle, which is all very manly and impractical and involves napalm (like every film battle ever seemingly has to; remember those napalm-lobbing Pictish trebuchets in that godawful ’04 King Arthur?) during which Richard the Lionheart gets shot. In the throat. And dies. At the start of the film. How’s that for shaking the legend up?
Meet our hero: an archer in the service of the punctured ex-king. I was hoping for a Crecy monologue in which he considers English punctuation, but instead he’s the brooding silent type Russell Crowe is in every movie ever. The plot thickens quickly; the intrigue begins, involving a dead man named Locksley! As he lays on the chainmail and deceits, saying very little except a bit of silly and cheap anti-classist rhetoric, Robin is backed up by “Will”, “John” and a bearded singing type I’m guessing is Alan. They’re fantastic, filling their archetypes perfectly and being highly entertaining without stealing the scene. Through a shower of arrows and plot points, they head back to England. There are fights, Frenchmen, an attractive fella with a shaved scalp named Godfrey, and someone uses the word “equerry”, which is a fantastic word which needs more airing.
King John was by far the most interesting character, his somewhat jarring Guatemalan (!) good looks notwithstanding; a clever, conflicted, conniving bastard, living in the shadow (and more importantly, the debt) of his warmongering brother. This was something that could have been played up more, but I’m very glad they did note that the fearless, peerless Coeur de Leon, the hero of the Hood legend, paragon and exemplar of all true English heroism, pretty much forced John’s “evil taxes” by draining the country’s funds swanning off to the Holy Land killing people. They could also have mentioned that he couldn’t speak English, resided in the British Isles for about two years total and spent most of those massacring Jews for the lulz, but given what they did to Robin I think there’s probably about enough iconoclasm going on in this film already.
Without going into much more detail (intrigue, impersonation and Frenchmen being bastards, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before) the first two thirds really weren’t bad: well executed plots, good characters, good casting (Cate Blanchett as an old, steely Marion), nice camerawork and authenticity. The only niggling point is that so far it’s got fuck all to do with Robin Hood. There is no robbing, no living in forests, nobody is even wearing green.
Then in the third act:
There is a generic and rather poor lolviolence medieval battle scene;
It turns out Robin Hood’s father wrote the Magna Carta;
Robin the grubby mercenary archer is suddenly a heroic figure, which is to say he jabbers about liberty with all the passion and self-awareness of a 21st century right-wing strawman;
There is a much bigger, much more generic and much worse lolviolence medieval battle scene, when the French stage D-Day;
No, really; the French landing craft assault on the Cliffs of Dover is beaten back by the army of England plus Robin, Maid Marion on horseback in full armour, Friar Tuck on horseback in chainmail underneath his habit, and a ragtag band of feral Sherwood children with sticks (I’m not even making this up. Honest. I wish I was);
There is some tax-related, King John-related dickery;
The named cast grab their
rifles and American flags WOLVERIIIIIINES longbows and go inna woods;
Close with shitty narration and “AND SO THE LEGEND BEGINS”. Seriously?
Let’s have a look at some classic Hood elements and how this film did at them.
[ ] Swashing
[ ] Buckling
[ ] Living in woods
[ ] Wearing of green
[ ] Robbing from rich
[ ] Giving to poor
[ ] Archery contest
[ ] Other display of amazing bowmanship
[X] Someone getting shot
[ ] “Historical accuracy”
THE FUCKING LANDING CRAFT GODDAMNIT WHAT. Are people so utterly retarded that they don’t understand an amphibious assault without them? They had Orcs using similar devices in the Return of the King film, but that was a) for a single, short river crossing b) actually a pretty nice example of the Evil Orcish Ingenuity of the books c) fantasy. Asterix did pretty much the same scene, with the Romans attacking Dover in wooden landing craft, but there it was funny; Asterix is not pretending to be realistic, and never lets historical accuracy get in the way of a good visual joke or a terrible verbal one.
But Robin goddamn “ostensibly realistic” Hood? In the year 1200 people did not have FLAT-BOTTOMED LANDING BOATS WITH ASSAULT RAMPS. I was half expecting them to start suppressing the English pillboxes with mounted Oerlikons, or for French woodpunk duplex drive tanks to roll out of the waves. Landing at Point Rain was intentionally based on Omaha Beach and it felt less like Omaha Beach than Robin Hood did. (Ah, my mistake; Sword Beach.) The moment I saw them I knew there was going to be a shot taken underwater with kicking legs, splashing and arrows slicing streams of bubbles through the surf. I called it. Fifteen seconds later it happened. I suppose I should be grateful we didn’t see someone firing an English longbow from horseback.
It’s probably still better than the BBC show. I haven’t watched it; all I know about it is that a) the villains are Normans in black veils and b) it includes among the Merry Men a female Muslim scientist who invents gunpowder… so don’t expect this to change.
Robin Hood (2010): two acts of a moderately good low fantasy film in a weird alternate universe, followed by a string of reaction-image-provoking stupidity. Why on earth? Did they think that Hollywood really needs another example of “sticks name of beloved and well-known story on completely unrelated and incoherent directorial outpourings”?
Brace for Eagle of the Ninth, starring Loch Lomond and an American with a truly stupid name…