CONTAINS SPOILERS AND A SUFFOCATING SENSE THAT THERE'S GOT TO BE MORE TO LIFE THAN THIS, AND NOT IN A "HAVE I DONE THE WASHING UP?" KIND OF A WAY
I love movies. I've been going to cinemas on a regular basis since 1984 and renting videos since about 1985. Very very occasionally, a couple of times a year, I'll come across a movie that I wish I hadn't bothered with - a piece of irredeemable Troma garbage or a bit of Peter Greenaway poncing about - but this is the first in quite a while that made me wonder whether it was actually worth keeping up with cinema at all. Not keeping up with this particular film, but keeping up with movies in general. Whether it's time to give up filmgoing as a regular pastime and start doing something else entirely.
The frustrating thing is that Robin Hood is such a reliable old warhorse in terms of drama that it's practically impossible to muck it up. It's got action, it's got romance, it's got boo-hiss villains, it's got comedic supporting characters, it's got righteous anger, it's got Englishness and English Heritage, and it's got a genuine Star Role for a movie action hero. But not here. Here you'll come out hating the French, but that's all. This is a prequel: detailing how Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe, mate) masqueraded as Robin Of Loxley, and became a heroic figure by uniting the English barons against an invasion by the evil French led by traitor Mark Strong, before being betrayed by the equally evil King John. The whole outlaw business, with Robin (Of The) Hood, Marian and the Merrie Men being forced to hide out in Sherwood Forest, doesn't take place until thirty seconds before the closing credits, and the Sheriff Of Nottingham has three scenes, in none of which he's the bad guy. The entire plot is based on a massive dramatic coincidence - that Longstride just happens to be the one who finds the dying Loxley and takes the family sword and English crown back to England when quite literally anyone could have picked it up - on top of another massive coincidence, since Longstride just happens to recognise the sword's inscription as a link back to the father he never knew.
On a technical level it's pretty poor: the sound mixing means that a lot of the dialogue is indecipherable. More damaging is the insistence on shooting all the action sequences in that fast shutter style that originated with the opening reel of Saving Private Ryan and is not so much homaged as shamelessly stolen, with the French storming the beaches of England complete with landing craft which, incidentally, they didn't actually have, and nobody on Earth would for another 700 years, but hey, it worked for Spielberg so it's damn well going to work here. If they're going to play that fast and loose with history why didn't they have the Crusades fought with tanks or Crowe planning the defence using Google Maps?
Much has been made of Russell Crowe's alleged stab at a Northern accent - sometimes it's a bit Yorkshire, sometimes it's a bit Scouse, and yes, whatever he says in interviews about it, sometimes it is quite definitely having a Guinness with the little people, begorrah. Like Kevin Costner's vocal World Tour in the same role back in 1991, it's hard to know why he's even bothering when we don't get so much as an "Ay up" from the magnificent Max Von Sydow, who basically does Swedish.
We've already had the sadly underwhelming Centurion and the slow but aesthetically fascinating Valhalla Rising, and we've got Black Death, Season Of The Witch and The Eagle Of The Ninth still to come, so 2010 is clearly the year for Dark and Middle Ages historical cinema of the unglamorous and unromantic variety. But if you are doing something with mud and swords and medieval brutality it's got to be better than this. At times this film so obviously wants to recapture the success of Gladiator and it's just not up to the task. If the man who not only made Gladiator, but who gave us two genuine cinema greats in Alien and Blade Runner, can't make anything of Robin Hood, then maybe it's not just me who should be thinking of packing it all in and doing something else entirely.