No wizards in Robin Hood, but it really IS a fantasy

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:31 PM EST

Between myth and history lies legend, and legends are only the fantasies we have about our own past. So though there were no wizards or magic rings (or replicants or facehuggers) in Ridley Scott's rendition of Robin Hood, it qualifies for the berth here at SCI FI Wire anyway. Indeed, Robin Hood is a fantasy, and it's a different sort than you've ever seen before—it's Robin Hood as libertarian.

Forget the old liberal bumper sticker slogan Robin Hood Was Right, this guy Hood barely steals anything and hardly gives it to anyone. Some seeds, and that's about it. Also in the film a miracle occurs: Scott Grimes has work in a motion picture someone might actually see again! (He's aged well and is playing Will Scarlet.)

Robin Hood has always been a chameleon. He's been portrayed as a commoner and as a declassed aristocrat in the earliest of legends, and in films as Douglas Fairbanks dashing, Errol Flynn suave, Disney charming and Kevin Costner annoying, all to serve the fantasies of whatever era needed him.

In this latest version, a pudgy Russell Crowe (please don't punch me, Russell Crowe!) plays another man altogether—an archer named Longstride who served with some skill but no real distinction in the bloody Crusades and in all the sacking on the way back to England with Richard the Lionhearted (Danny Huston in a Cindy Brady wig). He and his familiar-seeming friends go AWOL when the opportunity presents itself in the form of a French cook nailing Richard in the neck with a crossbow bolt. Soon Longstride finds himself taking the place of a fellow named Locksley, late of Nottingham.

Meanwhile, Prince John is the same jerk he is in every movie. William Hurt is criminally underused as William Marshall, and a creep named Godfrey (Mark Strong, fresh from every film this year!) is doing John's dirty work by burning down villages and strongholds that won't pay increased taxes for Richard's holy folly. That's because nothing says productive growth and a strong tax base like dead peasants and smoldering rubble.

But Godfrey isn't turning England into Ye Olde Detroit for sadistic kicks, oh no, he's a tool of France's King Philip, who is himself a tool. Indeed, Ridley Scott seems to have some problem with the French. I swear that this film includes a scene in which a French soldier finds Friar Tuck's secret stash of booze ... then he greedily laughs, "Ohnr Ohnr OHNR!" as he pillages. If the plot seems less familiar that you might have guessed, it is. Put it this way—the Sheriff of Nottingham appears only in two major scenes in this version. Robin Hood isn't even an outlaw until the last sequel-ready three minutes of the movie!

What we get instead is Cate Blanchett as a grimy and subtle Maid Marion, and a lot of proto-capitalist complaints about the state as a drain on the economy, and all while King John hangs out with a French supermodel. There are moments of gritty realism in this Robin Hood; Scott follows Monty Python in that the king is pretty much the only person in the movie who doesn't have shit all over him. Everyone has awful skin and scars, but only Godfrey has one of those evil-sexy scars people only get in movies to help the audience remember who the villain is.

Marion and the rest are in arrears on the taxes to be paid on their filth-and-rotten-teeth farms, and England is on the verge of civil war. But, ho-ho, what's this spoiler to be found under some decorative obelisk in every town square? We find out that Longstride's father was a stonemason and a visionary (read: Freemason) who created a charter promising equal rights for all.

In the most fantastical of scenes, Robin, some barons, Marshall and the king discuss extending rights to all Englishmen so that they may unite and fight off the awful and smelly frogs who are even now crossing the Channel like some well-greased swimmers. And not one of these esteemed personages says, "Well, of course we don't mean the peasants! Screw that dirty lot; I sure won't be growing my own wheat." "Yeah, what he said—I don't even know where I'd keep my barony's fleas if not for the heads of my diseased and sickly peasants." And then they all don't laugh and slap one another on the back. They do fight the French, though, with the help of the Lost Boys from Peter Pan. Marion even does a turn as Éowyn in armor, but she just ends up falling into a puddle to be saved by the very buoyant Hood.

The battle is fairly well done; it captures the sense of history being made due to the actions of a fairly small number of people on a battlefield that today we might just play football on. But Scott's apparent loathing for the French comes through again as it's the TIDE ITSELF that kills most of the on-screen invaders, as if God had chosen sides.

Robin Hood isn't bad—it's sort of like Gladiator with trees and a less ridiculous plot. And every royal and every noble is an utter, utter bastard, so in a way the film is an anti-fantasy. It's pretty long, though, and is ultimately a superhero origin story: Who is John Galt? Well, he's Robin Hood! The final scenes of Robin and Marion in the woods wink at the theme, so Hollywood leftists could easily decide that the merry men have formed an anarcho-syndicalist commune based on principles of mutualism and offing the pigs. Robin Hood is a big loud summer movie, but at least it's a re-envisioning rather than a remake, a reboot or a repurposing of some old costumes in a warehouse somewhere. And the ending credit sequence is one of the most beautiful I've seen, so stick around for that.

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