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I’ll start this out with the truth: Robin Hood is not Robin Hood—and that’s not a bad thing. You’ll catch on very early once you realize the name Robin Longstride for Russell Crowe’s lead character isn’t an artistic change because it rolls easier off the tongue. No, the Loxley moniker does also exist; only it’s attached to King Richard’s right hand man, neck deep in the Crusades’ final hoorah. Throw in the fact The Lionheart himself dies within the first fifteen minutes or so—a shame since it seems Danny Huston can’t buy a large role these days despite his immense talent—and there goes the ending we all know and love from the many iterations of this classic myth. I always go back to the Disney version myself since there’s nothing like a thumb-sucking, coward of a lion getting what’s coming to him, but I’ll be honest in saying Ridley Scott’s go-round was getting pretty high up on my list. And then came the ending, subverting all the great things happening before it, transforming a uniquely constructed modern war epic take on the timeless tale of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor into a money-grabbing prequel, begging the audience to wish for a sequel in an environment more akin to Robin of the Hood of our memories.

But that inevitable follow-up won’t be quite the same as Kevin Costner’s or Errol Flynn’s vehicles—John is King. That in and of itself changes the complexion of the entire tale because Richard isn’t off somewhere trying his hardest to return to England and reclaim his crown. What they do about that is up in the air, although they still have the Sheriff of Nottingham waiting in the wings to become the villain we all know he can be. You don’t cast a guy like Matthew Macfadyen only to leave him on the sidelines for an entire film spanning almost two and a half hours, especially with it being such an inspired choice. The guy is good as a grimy sleazeball; that may be because I know him as mister suave and sophisticated in all his other roles, but either way it works. Who then, you ask, is the villain? None other then go-to antagonist of the past few years Mark Strong as Lord Godfrey, a man in the pocket of his friend King John, but even deeper in that of French King Phillip. This is where Brian Helgeland’s script works its magic by invigorating a tired old tale of yore with contemporary movie tropes such as deception, double-crossing, and complete ethical reversals, making men seeking to grab cash and retire far away from England’s army end up fighting against the government as a means to become its nations’ saviors.

Rather than pit Crowe’s Hood solely against the tax collectors of King John, the twist welcomes in the French as a new opposition. Godfrey, under allegiance to King Philip, is tasked with appealing to John’s impatience and power-hungry nature to become appointed as the collector of said tariffs, using the King’s name to burn villages and murder without remorse. He is riling up the Northern Englanders to launch a civil war that will march on London and cause enough disarray so the French won’t have any trouble coming ashore and taking out all that’s left. It’s a surefire plan beginning like clockwork, but with old stalwarts like William Hurt’s Marshall, (advisor to Richard), and newly impassioned proponents of the lower class such as Robin and his ‘Merry Men’, you know a wrench will soon be thrown into the mix. King John is eventually given the opportunity to become the leader his elder brother was; the power he seeks to wield can be his for the taking if he tones down the tyranny and turns towards a position of using his constituents for bolstering support rather than as dried up cows, milked once too many for gold or grain. England can unite against the common enemy of France or it can implode through anger and injustice, making it only a matter of time before flying the fleur de lis.

Thankfully, Scott has leaned much more on his swords and sandals masterpiece Kingdom of Heaven and less on the mainstream treasure Gladiator, a film that never hit me with the kind of force it seems to have elsewhere around the world. The battle scenes are bloody, kinetic, and gorgeous in their orchestration. To put the final climatic fight—you all know Crowe and Strong will be meeting at some point—in shallow water, between two rocking ships is quite genius. I loved the splashing liquid flying into the camera, the blood-colored drops falling from the injured brows of soldiers, and the slow motion emergences from underneath. It’s all dirty and authentic with small skirmishes sprinkled throughout the film, bookmarked by large scale sweeping battles at the front, (the final castle storming on the journey back from the Crusades), and the shores of England at the back. The soldiers all have personality too, adding comedic charm that hits its mark from Kevin Durand (Little John), Scott Grimes (Will Scarlet), and Great Big Sea frontman Alan Doyle (Alan A’Dayle). And don’t forget Mark Addy’s Friar Tuck, a man willing to go that extra step knowing God may turn and look the other way, his hives of bees bringing a chuckle due to my knowledge of his penchant for dabbling in the creation and imbibing of mead.

While the performances are stellar across the board—Max von Sydow, Eileen Atkins, and Oscar Isaac as King John round out the main cast—it was the ability to take a story I know so well and make it fresh, captivating me straight from the get-go, that stands out. Seeing Cate Blanchett as the former Maid Marion and current Marion Loxley, married to the Robert Loxley Crowe’s Robin meets on the battlefield, makes it so that anything is possible. Longstride may impersonate this man in order to return home from a ten-year war, but the chance to discover a place as honest and welcoming as Nottingham changes him into the man he was born to grow into. The truth to Longstride’s birthright is revealed and the power of voice contained within him, one as enrapturing as that of his late father, is unleashed. Those words stir a nation into readiness, giving the requisite speech all films of this ilk need to be palatable to an American, Hollywood loving population. Thankfully they get it out of the way early and let the final war on the beach exist as battle and nothing more. The fighters do circle on their horses, causing me to cringe at the assumed battle cry I can dictate in my head, but it never comes. Instead Scott and company truly surprised me with an intelligently told re-imagining of a story ingrained in our minds. I only wish new blockbuster films don’t always need to inherently carry the unoriginal ‘franchise’ label.

Robin Hood 8/10

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photography:
[1] RUSSELL CROWE stars in “Robin Hood”, the epic action-adventure about the legendary figure whose exploits have endured in popular mythology and ignited the imagination of those who share his spirit of adventure and righteousness. Photo Credit: Greg Williams 2010 Universal Studios
[2] Godfrey (MARK STRONG) leads his men on a bloody mission fueled by greed in “Robin Hood”, the epic action-adventure about the legendary figure whose exploits have endured in popular mythology and ignited the imagination of those who share his spirit of adventure and righteousness. Photo Credit: Kerry Brown 2010 Universal Studios

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