My dominant impression, walking out of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator Tw…er Robin Hood, was that it is nice to see Scott Grimes (closer to Party of Five mode than E.R. mode) getting work. My second thought was that Mark Strong could make a career out of playing pre-20th Century villains.
If that’s a bit too catty, let me hasten to say that the film hits every single one of its marks and entertains in that spectacular yet utterly disposable way that a summer blockbuster should.
If the film feels a bit too much like a set up for its own sequel, well, that’s probably the fault of The Dark Knight‘s success. If it feels a bit too much like an advertisement for itself, well, I’m not altogether convinced that is not what contemporary audiences want.
As a director, Scott seems to have morphed into an Aristotelian happy medium between the George Lucases and Jame Camerons of the world (all the spectacle money can buy with nary the whiff of a story) and Ron Howard (eye for good, heartfelt material and the ability to attract “A” list acting talent). The film oozes with acting talent with Crowe, Cate Blanchett and William Hurt all doing polished work and then everyone stopping to treasure any scene Max Von Sydow is in.
My only real issue is the script. If a film wants to be allegorically, politically topical, I have no beef with that. Drop all the pointed comments you want about taxation, guerrilla warfare, and rulers being bound by laws. But don’t expect this to give the film gravitas or significance. When Iron Man or X-Men does this (or even The Dark Knight) the superficiality with which these important issues are referenced (not developed) is cute because those films know they are comic books and comic books are allegorical to begin with. When the Robin Hoods, Children of Men, or Bourne films try it, they come across as pretentious, hypocritical, or muddled.
It turns out that Howard Zinn was way off–individual rights were not something slowly parceled out by power elites to the middle class as a means of bribing them to allow further exploitation of the masses. The Magna Carta and The Constitution were ideas that lived in the hearts of all men for centuries who were simply waiting for a king sufficiently corrupt to make asking for legally guaranteed rights seem not quite so uppity. I know, I know, Ken, why do you hate freedom so much? You probably spit in apple pie and pull the ears of cute puppies, too, don’t you?
No, I really don’t. It’s just that the cultural work of the contemporary Hollywood film baffles me. It is as though by having Tony Stark rail against Congress for trying to seize his property or having Robin Longstride tell a crusader that he is godless for killing heathens that the films think they can somehow inoculate themselves against charges that they are mindless, insignificant panderings to culturally and politically ambivalent. What, exactly, is the point of the Robin Hood story? That power can’t be trusted? The film begins with a preface that states when the law turns against good, honest people, it makes them outlaws. By the end of the film, we are arguing though that the villains are people and that laws are things that will protect people from the powerful…except when they don’t and the people have to oppose their oppressors by taking what is rightfully theirs to begin with.
The point is…to blow stuff up while music plays. That people more beautiful than we are look really good riding on horseback and that taxing people is bad (but only if your reason for doing so is the pay for an unpopular war against non-Christian people in distant lands). It made several of its points very well and was entertaining while doing so.