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Old Robin Hood

When I was a young guy, I wrote an episode of the Hanna-Barbera / Cinar animated TV series (then wildly popular in the States - the top-rated Saturday morning cartoon show for a season, 1991), Young Robin Hood, with my friend, Thor Bishopric.  Our episode was called "King For A Day" - and one of the key scenes involved Robin intercepting King John's crown in the forest, and the power of that robbery going to his head.  Imagine my delight in seeing that Ridley Scott's new shot at a trilogy reboot epic, Robin Hood, features a similar moment.

When I co-wrote my Robin Hood show, it was okay for Robin to steal from the rich, and use arrows.  In the second season, Disney took over, and banned all reference to distributive justice or sharp pointy stick use.  They also wanted Robin out of the woods, and to stop co-habiting with merry boys.  The series soon tanked.  This new film version - critics claim it is the 100th such movie - isn't quite as morally sound or po-faced as the Disney version, but almost.  Robin Hood isn't much fun, or given to quips.  Or lithe leaps.  Instead, he speaks out against the massacre of Muslim people, and is put in the stocks, later impersonating a noble until he discovers his father was the executed author of the Magna Carta document and its claims on royalty in favour of the rights of the common man.

Robin Hood (here Robin Longstride, aka Loxley) as played by Russell Crowe, is a battle-scarred, muscular, middle-aged, plain-spoken Yorkshireman and proto-Clegg, against taxes on the poor, and in favour of liberty.  This is a seriously well-made and researched movie that borders on being dull and worthy, without ever quite failing to entertain enough to be less than good.  It is rarely thrilling or utterly enthralling, though sometimes its villains - particularly rising-star Mark Strong (in another bald baddie role) - amuse with their vicious lack of nobility.

I believe the main fault is with the story structure - clearly influenced by intelligent TV dramas like The Wire.  TV shows can have long and complex arcs that allow for in-depth anatomies of power corruption - and this film tries such a structure - so we see the inner workings of the government and monarchy of England in 1200 AD, from king's mother, to king, to king's wife, to marshalls, barons, sheriffs, and lowly archers and pikemen, friars and wenches; and, of course, turncoats and spies (using bird-sent messages).  The key theme might be Fealty - who pays it, who spits on it - and Fatherhood, I suppose.  Or, put another way, leadership.

Heavily indebted to King Lear (Robin Hood like Cordelia tells one king an uncomfortable truth out of love and is punished; a blind man is taunted by a traitor, etc) and Henry V (those arrow showers), the screenplay gets medieval on the audience, displaying a virtuoso grasp of how to sack a castle or village.  Such gritty authenticity showing the levels of Gotham City worked for The Dark Knight - here it seems like homework.  The problem is, Robin has no clear goal for the first two thirds of the movie (overlong at 140 minutes) and only gets to know and confront the villains (including lusty and dishonest King John) in the last half hour - where, indeed, and excitingly, he rescues a mannish Marian (Cate Blanchett) from drowning in surf or being eviscerated by the oncoming French foes - and finally, aptly, uses an arrow to finish some business.

If there is a sequel, it will likely be better, because the stage is now set - Robin is an outlaw, and King John clearly delineated as evil.  I enjoyed seeing Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Alan Adale, and Little John drunk on mead.  I liked Robin sowing seed in the dusk.  I liked when he told Marian he loved her.  But next time around, he better say something funny, too.

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