Ridley Scott has never been one to cushion the blow when it comes to sticking it to modern consumerist society. From “Blade Runner” to “Thelma & Louise,” “Black Hawk Down” to “American Gangster,” the diseases of so-called civilization become exposed in tableaux of greed, discontent and a cunningly concealed sadism.
Against resplendent sets and lit by gorgeous lighting, Scott’s characters often wallow in violence — by choice or otherwise — with no way out except through more violence, preferably stylish and rife with innuendo. Scott’s depictions of modern society are fraught with double entendres: The outer layer is thickly coated with abundance and power; peel it back and we see the rotting dreck underneath. The genius of the man is that he makes it all so entertaining, so visually rewarding.
Scott’s latest to land on these shores is “Robin Hood,” whom you may know as the proto-punk rebel who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, making his own point about consumerism.
The year is 1199. King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) is on the last leg of his disastrous Crusades campaign. For 10 years, he’s been absent from the throne, leaving his mom, Dowager Queen Eleanor (Eileen Atkins), in charge of an increasingly ailing nation and a git of a younger brother named John (Oscar Isaac) — now old enough to bed the leggy niece of the French King and wreak havoc on England’s honor. Not that the Lionheart could be bothered about homeland stuff; he has his hands full pillaging and plundering his way back to Dover.
Among his weary men is Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) — short on title but blessed with brains and brawn. When Richard is killed, Robin and his buddies Little John (Kevin Durand) and Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes) keep that information secret, pass themselves off as Richard’s aides and makes it across the Channel before the rest of the army.
“I’ve had it with war and the Royals,” grunts Robin, in much the same tone as a modern London demonstrator saying he’s had enough of pay cuts and the hype over Prince William’s wedding.
In Scott’s stories, history has a way of repeating itself, or rather, a way of reminding us of the current soup we’re in. Even as far back as “Blade Runner” (1982), the world had been taken over by a corporation specializing in genetic modification. And now in “Robin Hood,” unsustainable-lifestyle woes are combined with recession despair as the fate of England goes on the fast track to obliteration. The landed gentry have grown old and feeble. The newly crowned King John has no sense and no ideas, other than to raise taxes. Farms are overrun by thieves and marauders. Who else is there to save the country but Robin Hood and his band of merry men?
Crowe’s take on Robin is a masterful blend of Earth Day hippie plus ferocious training at an L.A. gym. Unpretentious and excessively macho, Robin doesn’t say much, but when he takes off that medieval chain mail to reveal a perfectly buffed torso, you’re going to want to listen to every single word.
Like any Hollywood hero, Crowe’s Robin has issues. Childhood trauma for one (his dad up and left when Robin was a tender 7 years old); the feeling that he’s destined for greater things than mere foot-soldiering for another. He also wants to give to the people and the community, and to live in nature without unjust taxation from an idiotic government. We hear you, man. This Robin feels so close and familiar, you expect him to walk down to the local pub for an organic beer and a veggie burger.
It seems only fair that a comely brunette such as Lady Marian Loxley (Cate Blanchett) should succumb to Robin’s charms. Her husband was one of the unfortunates who died out in France after leaving her to a state of virtual widowhood for a full decade. Though she’s dedicated to her blind father-in-law Sir Walter Loxley (played by Max von Sydow on top form), at this point in her life Marian is lonely and overworked, and she can’t even blog about it.
“I was an old maid even before I got married,” says Marian to Robin defensively, but she also makes it sound like an invitation. “You have to ask me nicely,” says Robin, and he makes male arrogance seem irresistibly sexy.
You can see where the relationship is going many minutes before the final showdown, in which Robin takes on an entire French naval fleet practically by himself, and Marian swoons with admiration and ardor. Ah, those were the days — when one hippie guy on a fast horse could make a whole lot of difference.