On The Aisle
By Tony Macklin
Prequel, prequel, prequel.
After remakes and sequels, what is left? Originality? Hell, no.
Let’s go back and back, ad nauseum. We want our genre back! Unfortunately for those who yearn for a three-color past-just red, white and blue-movies get splayed.
In the “newest” rendition of “Robin Hood,” director Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe take to the muddy, slippery slopes of France, England and Nottingham. Into the bright primary colors, they throw gobs of brown and dun.
Crowe does his yeoman best and invests Robin Longstride with his patented heft and brawn. And Scott fills the air with CGI-blankets of arrows, ships at sea and epic battling on the beach.
Scott has no problem in ratcheting up action. But Scott does have a problem in ratcheting up drama.
Scott’s best films are classics: “Alien,” “Thelma and Louise” and “Gladiator.” They’re potent dramatically. But it’s been awhile since Scott had command of drama. He didn’t bring powerhouse actors Crowe and Denzel Washington together until late in “American Gangster,” and Scott miscalculated Crowe’s strengths in casting him in “Body of Lies” as the CIA handler with Leonardo DiCaprio. Crowe’s character was overweight and sloppy — and wasted. Just because an actor can do anything doesn’t mean he should.
“Robin Hood” again forces Crowe into a role that’s a tight fit. In “Robin Hood” he plays a young — emphasis on young — fighter returning from Richard the Lionheated’s last crusade.
Robin comes to Nottingham to return a dead knight’s sword to his father (Max von Sydow). Robin gets involved in national disunity, and writer Brian Helgeland even takes a reflexive swipe at child abandonment issues.
Scott’s films have a political strain — liberal and anti-establishment — and “Robin Hood” is no different. But the reviewers who say Robin Hood is for the tea baggers miss the boat. It’s not in Boston harbor.
In the future, “Robin Hood” will give to the poor; tea baggers give to themselves. Robin and his men drink mead not tea. Robin is no old buzzard.
But Robin is aging, at least the actor is. Talk about suspension of disbelief. The casting tests credulity. Actually it shatters it. Forty-five-year-old Crowe, who’s now 46, plays the young Robin before he and his Merry Men escape into Sherwood Forest. He may be a tea bagger by the time he gets through, since he’s starting out as a 45-year-old kid.
One aptly might compare the veteran Crowe with the fresh buoyancy of 25-year-old Jonas Armstrong who played Robin on the 39-episode series “Robin Hood” on BBC TV (2006-09).
Crowe’s Robin is war-weary; Jonas’ hoodie-wearing Robin is vital. What is really remarkable is that Jonas Armstrong plays Robin AFTER he enters Sherwood Forest, and Crowe, who is 20 years older than Armstrong, plays Robin BEFORE he enters Sherwood Forest. That’s some time warp. Calling Dr. Who.
The rest of the cast is very uneven. Cate Blanchett (Marion) has indelible talent, so on occasion that glints through. Mark Addy as Friar Tuck is the only Merry Man with personality. Mark Strong makes a suitable villain.
But who are Robin’s adversaries to come? Where is Basil Rathbone? Prince John (Oscar Isaac) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew MacFadyen) look like they couldn’t fight their way out of a paper tea bag.
Isaac looks like a mad deer in the headlights. He is no Claude Rains. And MacFadyen, who was so compelling as agent Tom Quinn in BBC’s series “Spooks,” is rendered hapless in “Robin Hood.”
Scott’s “Robin Hood” adds mud, not tea, to the legend. It makes it murky.
Scott’s prequel of “Robin Hood” looks as though it may be only the beginning of his prequel binge. He is planning a prequel to “Alien.” And believe it or not, he’s also planning a second prequel to “Alien.”
Is Scott thinking of having Crowe play Maximus as a child? Or maybe a prequel, Robin before the womb?
Tony Macklin, a former college English and film professor, is still foraging for truth in literature and film, in Arkansas, Las Vegas and beyond.