Robin Hood wasn't always a merry man.
And, really, what did he have to be merry about? He's been on his own since he was 6, finally finding a misshapen home in King Richard's army. There he saw the world—but mainly the bad parts, surrounded as he was by bloody battles and more death than the folks in CSI. And then, just because he tries telling King Richard an uncomfortable truth, the good king claps Robin and his friends in irons. Merry? Try miserable.
But when Richard dies, Robin finds his career has taken a new trajectory. He and his pals escape from the stocks and desert the army—trading in their "prisoner" job title for that of "vagabond." They quickly stumble upon a duplicitous ambush set up to kill the king. Since the king's already dead, the plot is less than successful, but Robin and his retinue manage to ambush the ambushers and grab the king's crown—which they see as their ticket back to England.
Robin proceeds to masquerade as one of the ambushed knights—a guy by the name of Robert Loxley—and returns the crown to London, where the evil Prince John slaps it on his own head. He apparently wants to become England's worst. King. Evar. Robin manages to escape London with his secret identity intact (apparently no one checked out the real Robert's Facebook status) and rides to Nottingham, where he's encouraged to keep up the facade, live in the Loxley hacienda and play husband to the feisty-but-strangely-attractive maid Marion. Once there, he finds the time to get to know some villagers, fret over the crops and mull over his strange childhood as a French army amasses to invade and—
Wait, wait, you say. This isn't the story of Robin Hood. This is a mash-up of Braveheart and As the World Turns. Where's the jaunty cap? The silly tights? The archery competitions? The whole "take from the rich, give to the poor" shtick?
Sorry, fellow moviegoers. Robin Hood proffers only one scene—one!—in which Robin Longstride acts like the Robin we know and don't quite love.
Robin Hood has long been, at some level, a critique of what it means to be "good" and "noble." Stories about the dashing thief rose to prominence in the days when powerful entities that should've protected the common folk—the state and the church—were sometimes doing everything they could to fleece them. Robin Hood operated outside the law because the lawmakers were corrupt and, true to his roots, this new Robin comes across as a swashbuckling antihero. In spite of his bad behavior, he still has a bit of nobility about him that has nothing to do with his fabricated title.
When he's on duty in the army, he saves a lad from certain death at great risk to his own life. When he's off duty, he runs a shell game—one that he doesn't cheat at, much to the embarrassed bewilderment of a certain Mr. Little John. Robin tells the king what he thinks—making him in Richard's eyes brave, honest … and painfully naive.
Once Robin and his riders escape from the army, Robin decides to honor the dying request of a knight and return the man's sword to his father—despite the fact that such a trip will put all their lives in peril.
"We can't repay good luck with bad grace," he explains to his fellows.
Once Robin hands the blade back, the blind father asks him to stay on as his surrogate son (and a protector to the village of Nottingham)—a duty Robin takes with somber responsibility. The ruse requires Robin to masquerade as Marion's husband … but he makes no attempt to force himself on his new "wife" (who, admittedly, threatens to cut off his "manhood" if he tries).
Marion, too, shows a great deal of moxie: Her real husband has been gone for a decade, and her father-in-law is old and blind. By default, Marion (who's not very fond of embroidering anyway) serves for years as Nottingham's noble protector, chasing away thieves and petitioning the greater powers around her for much-needed grain. She cares for her people, and she shows a willingness and ability to do any task asked of her—no matter how dangerous or menial. In the end, she even (somewhat preposterously) takes up the sword to join her faux husband in battle.
For years, King Richard fought in the Holy Land to wrest Christendom's most sacred sites from the Saracens. Though we never see these battles in Palestine, Richard's crusade is clearly front-of-mind for the king and many of his soldiers. So it's no surprise when Richard asks Robin, "Will God be pleased with my sacrifice?"
Robin says no. When Richard's forces massacred 2,500 Muslims, Robin knew that God had turned His back. Robin tells Richard that when he looked into a woman's eyes whom he was about to kill, he didn't see anger or fear there—only pity. "In that moment, we would be godless," Robin says. "All of us."
Though our arrow-loving hero believes God may not love him anymore, Robin still shows devotion to Him—burying the dead beneath crosses and saying prayers for the departed, begging the Almighty to receive them.
Robin tells his cohorts that neither God nor man can keep them in the army. And when a priest chastises Marion for not coming to hear him speak, she says that she likes a "quiet church to pray for a miracle." Indeed, several characters say they pray for miracles. And their prayers are answered, the film suggests—but often through the characters' own efforts.
The Church ends up serving mostly as a foil, using means that run counter to biblical teaching. For instance: When Nottingham loses its grain to thieves—grain the village needs to plant to survive—Marion asks the local friar to show some "Christian charity" and give them back some grain that's been tithed. The friar refuses, suggesting that the village's own sins will be the cause of its undoing. A new friar—the oft-drunk Friar Tuck—adheres to this policy at first. Then he reverses himself when Robin threatens to tell the king about his honey mead operation. So Tuck, Robin and Robin's men set out to steal the grain. "The Lord taketh …" Tuck begins. "And we shall giveth back," Robin finishes.
Priests are killed and churches are ransacked by soldiers.
We see Prince John in coital relations with a lover. We—and John's wife, who peers through a keyhole—see movements and the side of the woman's breast. When John's mother barges in, he stands up in bed naked. (The camera catches him from the waist up.)
Marion and Robin kiss. In a tender yet sensual scene, Marion helps him take off his armor, revealing his bare torso. Robin watches Marion undress behind a curtain, though when she's done "undressing," she's still (to our modern, jaded eyes) fully clothed. Marion mentions the short time she had, sexually, with her husband.
Characters ogle women who are sweaty and wearing ill-fitting, somewhat revealing peasant garb. A joke about bestiality is made, accompanied by a mocking sheep's bleat and a pelvic thrust. Little John's name is assumed by some to have an anatomical source.
When a man seems intent on raping Marion, locking her in a room and starting to remove his clothes, she pretends to go along with him. ...
But instead she stabs and kicks him down.
Robin Hood is a war movie—Braveheart with all the violence but little of the gore. While we rarely see blood spatter or gush, plenty of folks die at the tips of arrows and spears, the blades of axes, the heads of hammers and the edges of swords. Explosions and boiling oil take out still more men. The battles are unrelenting, so much so that I couldn't even hazard a guess at how many folks die.
Here are a few examples I managed to pin to a tree with my speeding pen: Richard's skewered in the neck, near the shoulder, with an arrow. Another man is wounded by an arrow on the side of his face—widening the appearance of his mouth in an almost Joker-like fashion. He bears evidence of the nasty injury throughout the rest of the film—until, of course, a second arrow catches him in the neck. (It sticks out both sides like a hors d'oeuvre toothpick, killing him.) An old man is stabbed through the gut by a sword, and villagers are imprisoned inside a burning building.
A man cuts himself while opening an oyster, dripping blood into the shell. Another man takes the bloodied oyster and slurps it down. A slew of soldiers are attacked by a bevy of bees.
Crude or Profane Language
A Frenchman uses the French word for "s‑‑‑" after cutting himself with a knife. Characters misuse both God's and Jesus' names a couple of times each, utter the British profanity "bloody" and say things like "h‑‑‑" and "b‑‑tard."
Drug and Alcohol Content
People—especially a priest—drink wine, liquor and honey mead, sometimes to the point of inebriation. Somebody asks what they drink in Nottingham to become "moderately insensible."
Other Negative Elements
Prince John backtracks on a promise he made to Robin and the English nobility—burning a forerunner to the Magna Carta under the pretext that the king's "God-given" right to rule can't be hemmed in by any man.
Throughout the centuries, Robin Hood has worn lots of different hats—a commoner's, a nobleman's, an insurrectionist's, a loyalist's, a thief's, a hero's. So maybe it's not so surprising that this film has a number of different faces to talk about.
Robin Hood, as a straight-up adventure movie, is a little disappointing. Director Ridley Scott seemed unsure whether he wanted to make a Braveheart-style epic or a salty summer popcorn flick—so the result is a mangled mesh into which both are woven. It's got loads of content, too—enough to make it a pretty hard PG-13 movie.
But I want to go just a touch deeper and look at the character of Robin Hood himself. Because, really, this beloved antihero should stir lots of questions in our hearts. Robin Hood is clearly a paradox—a hero who's a villain, a charitable soul who steals. We're asked to forgive his bad behavior because of his good intentions and, because the guy's been around so long, we do tend to forgive him—whether we should or not.
His new incarnation is not so much a dapper thief as a national revolutionary—a champion of limited government and bureaucratic restraint. Robin would tell us that when rules are unjust, it's our responsibility to break them. And a lot of Americans would agree. After all, our entire country was founded on just such lawbreaking and rebellion.
Still, it's good for us to treat such ideas, no matter how they resonate, with a certain amount of caution. And in that, Robin Hood—often despite itself—is a good reminder of one critical thing: Just because something feels right, it doesn't necessarily follow that it is.