Is it an accident that Ridley Scott's Robin Hood plays like a rousing love letter to the tea-party movement? It's certainly something of a surprise. When the movie was announced in 2007 with the title Nottingham, reports suggested that it would sympathize with the normally vilified Sheriff of Nottingham as a man torn between two extremes: the corrupt, tax-happy monarchy and Robin Hood himself, who in this version would be a self-serving rabble-rouser who'd play on the emotions of the struggling public to incite anarchy.
The film that Scott ended up making is called Robin Hood. The sheriff's role is minimal, and Russell Crowe plays the title character, whose ability to mobilize commoners with empty, anti-government rhetoric equating taxation with slavery is posited as a virtue. It's an old-fashioned adventure epic produced with state-of-the-art cosmetics, lined with mild romantic farce, and weighed down by overly simplistic and quasi-populist dialogue. Instead of robbing from the rich to give to the poor, this Robin Hood preaches about "liberty" and the rights of the individual as he wanders a countryside populated chiefly by Englishpersons bled dry by government greed.
Conservatives will never again be able to complain that Hollywood ignores their interests, but the driving agenda behind the Nottingham makeover most likely was economic: Robin Hood is, above all, a boilerplate origin story, finely engineered to set up a franchise.
As King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) and his army pillage their way back to England from the Crusades, royal younger brother John (Oscar Isaac) is shacked up with the niece of the French king. When the Queen mum interrupts her son's coitus to lecture him for being a foolish slut and taking up with the same, he announces his plan to marry the French broad and nab the throne from his aging brother. But Richard is killed by Godfrey (Mark Strong), an Englishman turned secret operative for the French, who the newly crowned, still-foolish King John unwittingly hires to violently enforce the mass taxation that will fund his royal decadence.
Who should stumble upon Richard's corpse but Robin Longstride, a "common archer" plagued by fuzzy flashbacks of the day, 30 years previous, when his father "left me to the world of men." Robert Loxley, a sidekick to the King, lies dying at the scene and presses Robin's daddy-issues button, convincing him to take the Loxley family sword back to papa Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow) in Nottingham.
The younger Sir Loxley failed to mention that Sir Walter lives with Marion (Cate Blanchett), the headstrong, barely noblewoman whom Robert married on the eve of decamping for war a decade earlier.
The second act of the film is largely taken up with the budding relationship between Robin and Marion — or, rather, the gradual process by which her proto-feminist resolve is crumbled by his general bemusement at her confidence and self-sufficiency. Just as this union is on the verge of consummation, Walter reveals the truth about Robin's father. The landowners threaten to rise up against the royals, the French army storms ... something, and the English king has to make political concessions to his people so that they'll march for him instead of against him.
Much like Avatar, Robin Hood seemingly seeks to wow through assault. The soundtrack is loud and extraordinarily dense, the pace is relentless, the battle scenes are choreographed for total sensory disorientation, and the war of the story is too convoluted to keep track of without the aid of press notes. But also like Avatar, those moments when technological trickery supports the classical filmmaking, rather than absorbing it, are interesting. Quietly ecstatic, aesthetic flourishes — from the warm, pulsing grain of the digitally enhanced natural light to the muted blanket of sound coming off a rain of arrows — are buried within Robin Hood's clutter.
But the clutter is paramount. Scott mainly filters a 1,000-year-old myth through the stale shorthand of the action blockbusters of the last two decades. We travel with arrows in Matrix-esque bullet time, and emotion is underlined through zooms and slo-mo. The directorial choices are, for the most part, so lazy and the blockbuster engineering so blatant, Robin Hood often falls into self-parody. All the more reason for Sarah Palin to love it.