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Brian Hegeland's atrocious script contains as many cliches ("Saddle up", "Every Englishman's home is his castle", "Get rid of him") as groaners ("I awoke this morning with a tumescent glow"). But the lion's share of blame for this pompous would-be franchise igniter ought to go to Scott. Otherwise smart cinephiles have been defending the jingoist behind 1492: Conquest of Paradise and Kingdom of Heaven for years, but at least some of them are finally catching on to the fact that his inflated reputation is based mostly on two films—Alien and Blade Runner—that he made thirty years ago. Even Mel Brooks—whose Men in Tights (1993) is worth seeing again—would never pause mid-battle for a slo-mo, not even for a laugh, so that his hero could scream "No!" protractedly.
Still, you can see what must have attracted this Robin Hood's A-list cast and crew to the project. One of Hollywood's favorite properties—as a medieval folk tale, it's never been subject to copyright—the anti-tax/eat-the-rich libertarian premise is neither conservative nor liberal, merely discontented. It can be tweaked—and it has—to fit the politics of ressentiment, right or left, in any era.
That's why so many fine and diverse treatments of this story have been made since cinema's inception. Not just the Fairbanks and the Flynn—though both are must-sees—but also Disney's 1973 animated fable and John Irvin's Robin Hood (1991), a moody, rigorous picture overshadowed by the contemporaneous, bigger-budgeted Costner lemon. Most recently, George Clooney revived the Robin Hood tradition, in the best sense, as a mischievous, thieving protagonist sticking it to the Man in Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox. (Anderson's soundtrack includes a song from Disney's version.)
What's common among the Hoods in all these films—and in Richard Lester's Robin and Marian (1976) and Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits (1981)—is the hero's love for play. The tale of Robin Hood has never been subversive because he steals from the rich; it's subversive because he enjoys it. He's an everyman, but he's also a trickster, a merry prankster delighting in the beauty of his own capers. As one of his cultural descendants, George Peppard's Hannibal, used to put it on the old A-Team series, "I love it when a plan comes together."
And so at the start of 2010's blockbuster season, with Sir Ridley trying to recoup from you the $237 million of your ticket money he wasted on this subpar remake, here's my suggestion for how you can steal from the rich. Boycott this movie and get thee to Netflix. Because every last one of the Robin Hoods I've mentioned are available, several of them in an instant streaming format.
Opens May 14