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solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris
I was recently unfortunate enough to watch the latest Ridley Scott film, Gladiator Robin Hood. I had to watch it in two installments because I couldn’t bring myself to watch it all in one go for fear that I would forget that it was possible to make an enjoyable film that was longer than two hours. This article contains spoilers for those who are misguided enough to put themselves through the experience of watching the film. I’m thinking of starting a charity for the survivors.
If like me you actually quite enjoyed the Kevin Costner film of the same length and were under the impression that this would be an interesting update on what was, at times, a cheesy-as-they-come action film then don’t ignore this film. Instead, repeatedly ram your head into a wall until all memory of this film goes away. You might sacrifice a few things like the ability to speak and the memories of your loved ones in the process, but I assure you that it’s worth it.
The aim of this film was akin to the aim of Batman Begins; tell the very beginnings of the hero, explain how he came to be who we know him for. That, or bore the carbon right out of my body. What Ridley Scott ended up doing was making a film analogous to making a three-hour Spider Man film about Peter Parker before he was bitten by the spider that so charitably turns its prey into super heroes. It’s not so much a movie as a test of patience. It’s like Chinese water torture without the hassle of sitting under a tap.
So just who is this champion of the poor? How did Robin of Loxley come to live in Sherwood Forest with his band of Merry Men?
Firstly, Robin isn’t Robin of Loxley. He’s Robin Longstride, son of a medieval Karl Marx, who meets a dying Robert Loxley on his way back from France. Loxley gives him his father’s sword and makes Robin promise to return it to his father in Nottingham. Which is convenient because old man Loxley knew Robin’s philosophizing father back in the good old days so can fill in some ludicrous plot points. After telling the Queen that her husband, Richard the Lionheart, is dead (oh yeah, did I not mention that?) he travels to Nottingham and meets Marian Loxley (wife of the very-much-dead Robert) who then goes on to do the tried & tested ‘I really dislike your gruff manly ways but will end up falling for you’ act. Old man Loxley, after hearing of his son’s death, decides to make Robin pretend to be his son for tax reasons (yes, you read this correctly) and so Robin becomes Robert. Except Robert Hood doesn’t sit so well, so they switch between the two names when it’s convenient to do so.
Oh and something about a French conspiracy for the crown of England which has nothing whatsoever to do with Robin Hood annoying the Sheriff of Nottingham (who makes an appearance for a combined total of about five minutes of screen time). Incidentally, the Sheriff of Nottingham’s most dastardly action in the film is to hit on Marion. The bastard. Anyway, it involves a bald Frenchie running around England stirring up civil war and killing good, honest English folk. It culminates in a ten minute medieval D-Day reenactment (still not joking) on the beaches of the South of England, complete with archers up the top of the cliffs shooting down on Frenchies exiting the same boats you see at the start of Saving Private Ryan.
In this two and a half hour film, Robin goes into Sherwood forest once, to shoot a pheasant. He meets some feral children sporting masks that look like they got too enthusiastic about the Scarecrow in Batman Begins in the woods too. I assume these will be his Merry Men but, and maybe this is just me, they’re children. I wasn’t aware that ‘Merry Men’ was supposed to be ironic in the same way that ‘Little John’ was. Not that this is developed in any way, shape or form. The children are the offspring of those living in Nottingham, but I can’t recall if it is ever explained why they all bugger off to live in the forest. Maybe it’s like the plot of Hansel & Gretel with Sherwood Forest not being good enough to accommodate its own candy house complete with a cannibalistic witch. Which is a shame.
So there you go. You thought Robin Hood was a film about a local hero annoying a sheriff aided by Morgan Freeman, but it turns out he’s a revolutionary fighter defending England from the French. Who can’t decide where his accent is supposed to come from.
I imagine the initial pitch for the film went something like this:
Ridley: I want to make a Gladiator sequel.
Exec: Hmm, probably not a good idea. Given that the gladiator dies at the end. Maybe change the characters a bit and the setting?
Ridley: Oh! How about a remake of Robin Hood?
Exec: Any ideas on how it would go?
Ridley: Russell Crowe avenging his murdered family who died by the hands of the tyrannical leader?
Exec: Oh, so the sheriff of Nottingham killed his family and…
Ridley: The sheriff of who? No, the king, obviously. And they’ll be invaded by the French. And Crowe’s dad will be a socialist leader wanting to give the power back to the people rather than the crown. Oh and the king will be a spoilt, childish emperor, I mean king, who is nothing like his more tolerable father. So I guess the current king has to die, whoever he was.
Exec: ….OK, but why would the French go to Sherwood forest?
Ridley: Why would Robin Hood live in a forest? He’ll be going round the country earning the loyalty of those he comes across, starting a revolution as he does. We also need a big battle against the French where the childish emperor, sorry king, is shown to be less popular than Russell Crowe. Oh and wasn’t Robin Hood involved with avoiding tax or something? So how about he pretends to be someone else so the authorities don’t know who he really is? Identity theft or something like that? So, get this, Robin isn’t really the Loxley guy? One of the main villains should probably go the same way as the old king in some kind of obviously brilliant metaphor. And then Maximus Decimus Meridius walks off with his loved one or something. Anyway, I haven’t thought it all through yet but I need a lot of money. Like, a lot.
That same day I had to watch the 1991 Kevin Costner film in a desperate attempt to purge my memory. True story.