And so the legend begins …
No, those aren’t the opening lines of Ridley Scott’s latest reimagining of the Robin Hood myth/fable.
They’re actually part of the film’s epilogue.
Walking into the theater, I couldn’t help but grimace that this was yet another remake. Yet another retelling of a classic story. Yet another "origin” story.
After the colossal artistic failure of “Clash of the Titans” (should be renamed trash, or crash) remake — in "fake" 3D, no less — it was understandable that critics would be apprehensive about yet another Hollywood reversioning of the Robin Hood fable.
This is the latest in a long line of major productions and television serials of the adventures of Robin of Loxely and the shenanigans of his merry men in Sherwood Forest.
Since 1908 there have been nearly two dozen Robin Hood films; most notable of which are the 1938 Errol Flynn, 1976 Sean Connery/Audrey Hepburn and 1991 Kevin Costner versions.
However, the latest Robin Hood, played here by Russell Crowe, puts them all in a meat grinder and rewrites the legend, and history itself. Literally.
Robin Longstride (really? They couldn’t think of a better medieval name?) is an ace archer serving in Richard the Lionheart’s defeated and bankrupt army which returns from Jerusalem and begins to maraud French towns in search of loot.
When Richard goes in search of an honest Englishman (is there some racist prejudice implied here?) in his ramshackle army, he comes across Longstride who informs the king that the Crusade was doomed because of the merciless slaughter of 2,000 Muslim men, women and children.
An Oliver Stone/“Avatar” moment? Perhaps, but knight Robin Loxely, Richard’s aide-de-camp, is not impressed by such brazen correctness.
Wait, how many Robins are there? And that’s the plot in a nutshell. The legendary hero, Scott informs us, is not Loxely of Nottingham and Sherwood Forest fame, but Longstride, a common soldier who impersonates the knight after he is felled in a French ambush.
Meanwhile, England is going through a period of treachery, tumult, tyranny, and taxation.
When Longstride/Loxely returns home, the audience is treated to a soap opera of pauper-cum-hero replacing prodigal son valiantly returning from the Holy Land. But the character swaps don’t end there.
Longstride/Loxely then impersonates William Wallace (think Braveheart – "Freedom!"), giving inspirational speeches condemning taxation without representation (wait, wasn’t that six centuries later?) and "liberty by law" as he rallies the English under King John, who recently replaced the now deceased Richard, against the invading French.
It is at this point that Scott rewrites English history with utmost dramatic flair which is sure to confuse every high school student and anger academics around the world. And he challenges everything we have ever known about Robin Hood. No stealing from the rich and giving to the poor here; instead, Longstride/Loxely protects the assets of well-to-do nobles and their fiefdoms as they resist the corporate money-grabbing monarchy.
King Goldman Sachs, er … I mean John, nevertheless betrays the nobles following the defeat of the French and maintains the stringent tax status quo.
Historical rollercoaster’s aside, the pairing of Scott and Crowe usually translates into silver screen epic, and this film doesn’t disappoint with plenty of swashbuckling action, impressive performances, and like Gladiator — brilliant costume and set design.
The star-studded cast includes William Hurt, who seems befuddled by his needless role in the film, Cate Blanchett, as a pumped-up Lady Marion, and Ingmar Bergman’s frequent collaborator Max von Sydow, who bedazzles as the senior, blind Loxely. If the Academy had any spine, I would wager that von Sydow would be nominated for best supporting actor next year.
But the best part of the movie in my opinion? No Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston music video parading as a Robin Hood feature.
Scott’s “Robin Hood” is bound to make lots of money and a sequel is probable; both films will be taxed, thank you.
Mel Brooks? The audience will see you now.
Cate Blanchett and Russell Crowe. (AP Photo/Universal Pictures, David Appleby)