Robin Hood: Lambs Become Libertarians

Reviewers of the new Ridley Scott/Russell Crowe Robin Hood have generally made the same two comments: 1) the merry men ain't that merry, and 2) why didn't they just call it Gladiator 2?  Sure, compared to the Mel Brooks lampoon, the new Robin Hood is a funeral, but it's not entirely lacking in humor.  The merry men have their moments of lovable buffoonery, and the movie makes a few comic jabs at the French.  Thankfully, it's not "laughable" like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. 

As to the other criticism, yes, it's extremely reminiscent of the choreographed action scenes and vengeful, burly hero in Gladiator.  But Gladiator was totally awesome!  Imagine Maximus storming a castle with a crossbow and a battering ram, dodging buckets of hot oil and a hail of arrows.  You're already on Fandango, aren't you?  Maybe Scott and Crowe are trying to do what Rowan Atkinson did in his '80s Britcom "Blackadder": set the same actors in different historical time periods.  First Gladiator, now Robin Hood...I can't wait to see Russell Crowe as General Patton.

But something else struck me about the new Robin Hood, and I must not be a total idiot because New York Times critic A.O. Scott noticed it, too.  Crowe's Robin Hood never steals from the rich and gives to the poor; instead, he masquerades as a nobleman and leads an army of free-thinking landowners to independence. Or as A.O. Scott put it:
"This Robin is no socialist bandit practicing freelance wealth redistribution, but rather a manly libertarian rebel striking out against high taxes and a big government scheme to trample the ancient liberties of property owners and provincial nobles.  Don’t tread on him!"
Indeed, this Robin fights a different battle than the Robin of previous tales.  This is partially because the new Robin Hood is structured as a prequel it's the story of how Robin Longstride, an unknown archer, became Robin of Locksley, met Maid Marian, and earned the hatred of King John.  (Why wasn't it advertised this way?)  In one particular scene of rabble-rousing, Robin leads a grassroots protest against taxes, causing Scott and other critics to accuse him of hosting a 13th century Tea Party.

But, after some thought, I don't believe Crowe's Robin is ideologically opposed to Hoods of lore.  I think the adage "robs from the rich, gives to the poor" has always been an oversimplification of Robin's actual motive.  Put Robin Hood in the context of his time: there was a tiny, rich, idle aristocracy of God-given royalty, and a large, impoverished, hard-working underclass.  Robin wasn't creating a medieval welfare system; he was taking from the leisurers and giving to the laborers.  That means Robin Hood has never been a socialist he's always hated government and taxes, and always believed people should keep what they earn.  His methods just have a prominent anarchist streak...and killer aim.

Over a year ago, The Washington Post buttressed that argument by noting an interesting phenomenon of Robin Hood movies: they've all premiered during a recession.  Errol Flynn's famous The Adventures of Robin Hood came out in 1938.  The Kevin Costner atrocity was released during the 1991 recession.  And now the Ridley Scott version.  Though the Post stops short of drawing conclusions, the obvious inference is that when people are most dissatisfied with the government, most frustrated with their finances, and most moved to rebellion, they are also most ripe for Robin Hood.
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May 20, 2010 at 4:28 PM delete

how long have you been waiting to let us know that you like blackadder?

May 20, 2010 at 6:12 PM delete

I've not seen this movie, but I don't intend to, because it seems to do to Robin Hood what "King Arthur" did to...well, King Arthur: pretend that there was a real version of the man (as if the that was the point), add current American ideals on freedom and economics, and take everything that was magical and heroic in the original, throw it in the mud, and give it a scowl and a 5 o'clock shadow (see also 300 and Clash of the Titans). I'm sure the acting is fine and the direction is solid, but it just seems wholly unnecessary, and I feel I've already seen enough movies like it.

I forgive Russell Crowe, though, because he has the magical ability to make me forget that the math professor he played did not, in actuality, have huge hulking biceps meant for "sailin' and singin' and foightin' round the world!"


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