First and foremost, it was better than I expected it to be. It’s always nice to see a movie and be surprised by it. I expected Robin Hood to be Gladiator + Braveheart and I was pleased to find that it stands on its own as an entertaining movie. Many critics accused Robin Hood of being “grim” and “dour” and while it certainly wasn’t all sunshine and daisies, I found myself chuckling at regular intervals. Robin Hood is grim like the Dark Ages were grim. I mean…they’re not called the Dark Ages for nothing. All Robin Hood was missing was an outbreak of the bubonic plague–every other medieval malady was represented. There was grinding poverty, people living in an unbreakable caste system dictated by the whim of a precocious leader, and always the brutal fighting. The history in Robin Hood is fucked when it comes to the overall story (of all the acceptable origins for Robin Hood, director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland elected to create their own myth that doesn’t work nearly as well as some others), but the details of Robin Hood are all fact. Richard the Lionheart drained England dry paying for his Crusade. King John levied a tax on his noblemen for money instead of knights at court (I think it was called scutage?), and he wasn’t popular for it. John did have his marriage to his English wife annulled so he could marry Isabella of Angouleme, a French noblewoman. Of course King John did not burn the Magna Carta, but the state of England when John became king was volatile. The country was effectively bankrupt and the French were closing in. Is that grim? Yes, but it all happened. Saying that Robin Hood is grim is like saying that Schindler’s List is depressing.
As for Robin himself, I don’t believe there ever really was a Robin of the Hood. I’m fine with reinventing the legend because there’s no actual person to whom to be faithful. While not the most historically consistent Robin (the BBC’s television show Robin Hood wins that title), Scott and Helgeland give us a hero we can relate to. This Robin is honest, practical, and a skilled soldier who longs for home. He’s identified as a yeoman, above a peasant but below a lord. Middle Ages middle class. As played by Russell Crowe, Robin Hood is solidly Of The People but noble in spirit–the born leader King John could never be. Marion, too, is given a more accessible personality. Basically abandoned as a newlywed when her husband joined Richard’s crusade, Marion has been keeping the home fires burning mostly through back-breaking physical labor on the farm. It’s easy to see in Cate Blanchett’s Marion a soldier’s wife of today, struggling to hold it all together while her husband is overseas. And Blanchett’s Marion is no high-falutin’ miss but a self-described old maid who admits to marrying up. As for the rest of the cast, the standout for me was William Hurt as William Marshal. Though his English accent was pretty much non-existent, I dare you to find me an actor who can say more with silence. When John fires Marshal as an advisor (piece of fucked history–William Marshal Senior supported John while William Marshal Junior lobbied for the Magna Carta), Hurt’s slight smile clearly says, “It’s your funeral, kid.” He knows John is too entitled and spoiled to be a good king, and as Marshal says, he serves the throne, not the king. He will do what he must to secure the English throne, even if it means going against John.
Robin Hood made me care about these characters. Scott and company set it up so that by the time Robin is outlawed and living in the forest, I really wanted to see him stick to the Man. Matthew Macfadyen (Death at a Funeral, Pride & Prejudice) plays the Sheriff of Nottingham as a drunk, corrupt, cruel, and a bit of a bumbling idiot. We got just this much  of a taste of what Macfadyen could do as the Sheriff and how he and Crowe could play off of each other. I wanted more. And that’s just it. When the movie ended at the card came up and said, “And so the legend begins,” I thought, “Wait, I want to see the legend!” As much as I liked Iron Man 2, and I really liked it, I didn’t exit the theater with the same sense of wanting more. With Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers coming out first, it could be at least three years before we see Iron Man 3. And I’m fine with that. I was not fine walking out of Robin Hood and wondering if we would get more. I am not done watching Russell Crowe kick Dark Ages ass.