“And so the legend begins . . . ” reads the closing title card of Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, the hundredth or so version of the immortal outlaw’s tale. That’s a hell of a thing to tell us after the 131 minutes of this bloated, tedious, ridiculous farrago of cockeyed history and half-baked narrative clichés. A pointless, uninspired rehash, it begs contemporary relevance by making what might be half-hearted gestures at Tea Party discontent with repeated bromides condemning taxation and demanding the right to bear arrows and poach the king’s deer.
The taxes go not to health care and free rides for illegal immigrants, however, but to paying for foreign wars — i.e., the vainglorious crusading against the Muslims of the day. Beaten and broke after 10 years of futile war, Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) is heading home, ransacking and pillaging Normandy castles along the way to raise some cash and perhaps also because director Scott has some siege engines left over from Kingdom of Heaven (2005). Among Richard’s battle-weary troops is Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) and Robin’s raffish companions Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle), Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes), and Little John (Kevin Durand). “The more the merrier!” quoth Robin, and that’s about all we hear about these characters — who for many fans of the story are, along with Friar Tuck (Mark Addy), its heart and soul. Well, maybe in the sequel.
First, though, we’ve got to get some things out of the way. Like the pusillanimous treachery of Prince John (Oscar Isaac). And the cold-blooded treachery of Godfrey (Mark Strong). Plus a brewing rebellion by Northern gentry, an early draft of the Magna Carta, and an imaginary 12th-century French invasion of Dover Beach — a kind of reverse D-Day landing complete with period Higgins boats.
And so Robin returns to England bearing, for reasons too tortuous to explain, the armor and identity of Sir Robert Loxley, late retainer to King Richard. Back at Loxley’s manor in Nottingham, meanwhile, all is not well. Like everyone else, the Loxleys have been bled dry by those damn taxes, and Loxley’s widow, Marion (Cate Blanchett), is reduced to tending her own horses while his blind father, Walter (Max von Sydow, wearing the same jerkin as in The Seventh Seal), dodders about.
In order to protect the property, they all pretend that Robin is indeed Robert. And so Robin and the bored viewer are thrust into a tiresome and fictitious Plantagenet intrigue that’s little leavened by the half-hearted romance sputtering between Robin and Marion. (Crowe and Blanchett aren’t as long in the tooth as Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn in 1976’s Robin and Marian, but they’re hardly the Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland of 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, either.)
I admit, we don’t look to movies for history lessons. But given that this is Ridley Scott, you’d expect at least a few rousing action scenes and some intelligent battle sequences instead of the namby-pamby CGI offerings on hand here. And though it goes without saying that when the legend becomes fact, you film the legend, this time waster is neither. Maybe I’m just bummed out because one of the first books I remember reading with delight was Howard Pyle’s 1883 collection of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. Here, there isn’t even a single suit of Lincoln green.
Editor's Note: In a previous version of this article, the film Kingdom of Heaven was misidentified as The Kingdom of God.