Sunday, November 18, 2018

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. A Review


When I first saw it in theaters, I thought Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, was just beyond awful. The acting, the story, the cameo that made the audience break out into laughter. Had I written reviews back then, I would have decried it as one of the worst films I had ever seen.

In the ensuing years however, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a film that, despite myself, I have warmed to. Oh there are problems, and it is by no means the best version of the Robin Hood mythos. That being said, I actually fell for the cheesiness of it all, down to its sappy love song.

1194 Jerusalem. Captured English nobleman Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner) escapes from the Muslim prison after the Crusades and returns to his native England. He is accompanied by a Moor, Azeem (Morgan Freeman), who has sworn to protect Robin after he helped Azeem escape, a debt that is to be repaid at a time of Azeem's choosing.

Robin returns to a land that is far from merry or welcoming. His father has been murdered, accused of devil worshiping, and his lands have been forfeit to the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman). Curiously, if anyone knows about worshiping the Devil, it's the Sheriff, who has a Satanic altar in his castle and the services of a witch, Mortianna (Geraldine McEwan). This sorceress pushes Nottingham to get rid of Robin and is fearful of 'the painted man'.

Robin, meanwhile, goes to visit the Lady Marian to inform her of her brother's death in the Crusades and to honor his word to protect her. Maid Marian Dubois (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) is more than able to protect herself thank you very much, though even being King Richard's cousin is not much protection.

Image result for robin hood prince of thievesRobin and Azeem, along with a Locksley retainer, find themselves captured by bandits in Sherwood Forest, but soon Sir Robin manages to make him their leader. He earns the grudging respect of John Little, whom Robin nicknames Little John (Nick Brimble) but not that of hothead Will Scarlet (Christian Slater). Will seems to have an antagonism towards 'the spoiled rich young ruler', though the reason won't be revealed until much later.

The outlaws are a bother to Nottingham, and more so when Marian appears to be helping them. Worse, she seems fond of the formerly mean Robin, which irritates the Sheriff who dreams of marrying her. Nottingham not only lusts after our fair Maid but is told by his witch that a son and heir could get him the throne.

The Sheriff plots to capture Robin by seizing the Sherwood Gang, women and children too, including Marian's lady-in-waiting Sarah (Imogen Bain). To free them, Marian must marry him. This unholy union must be stopped by Robin and Azeem, who gather the few men and women not captured (along with Will, whose secret is finally revealed) to storm the castle. It's a fight to the bitter end, but all things end happily.

The Maid Marian and Sir Robin are married by the beer-loving Friar Tuck (Michael McShane), and who happens to come upon the wedding but King Richard himself (Sean Connery), who will not allow the marriage...unless he gives the bride away.

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I do remember the audience laughing when Sean Connery made his appearance. I think I laughed too, though I was young and might have just reacted to the audience's reaction. Perhaps this was one too silly moment for the people who had sat through close to two hours of daring-do that was not all that much daring.

It might also have been an outlet for some of the most curious decisions in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, of which 007 popping up might have been the last straw.

Perhaps the oddest decision was with Costner. Now, I don't think he is a bad actor, but I think the idea that the all-American Costner could make anyone believe he was an English nobleman was a little strange. When in his first scene he states, "This is English courage", it is with a less-than-enthused American accent.

Costner seems at times almost bored with it all. Whether it is in his 'inspirational' speeches or discovering his long-lost half-brother or pledging revenge for his father, he has a very dull expression and manner, as if he is learning to speak.

That is counterbalanced when he sometimes behaves as if he were a teen in a middle-aged man's body, all giddy with meeting Maid Marian again.  Come what may, Costner was flat and at times disengaged from things.

Image result for robin hood prince of thievesIt is especially apparent whenever we see Rickman on screen. He dominates as the thoroughly evil Sheriff, almost gleeful in his malevolence. There is a light twinkle when he has to endure Mortianna or being interrupted as he is about to rape the Lady Marian, as if he knows the world is evil and these 'good people' keep getting in the way. He certainly plays evil and menacing well (such as when he lures Robin's father to his death), but you sense the Sheriff enjoyed the evil.

There is something almost camp in his performance, for no man can utter the line, "CANCEL CHRISTMAS!" and make it look logical rather than bonkers.

For all the bashing Costner gets, it's Slater who should be more bashed. Costner didn't bother with an English accent, or at least didn't make much of an effort. Slater did, which makes his one-note 'angry young man' bit more comical. I'm surprised people weren't laughing when Will reveals his connection to Robin.

Mastrantonio could have made a better Marian if the film had decided to follow one route rather than force her into two. In the beginning she was Marian: Warrior Princess, a strong woman capable of holding her own. By the midpoint however, she becomes less strong and more lovely-dovey, though to be fair perhaps the sight of a nude Kevin Costner has that effect on women. Still, despite that inconsistency I think Mastrantonio did a strong job with what she had to work with.

To Prince of Thieves' credit, it introduces a new element into the mythos with Azeem, the 'noble Moor'. I cannot say that this is an original idea, but I don't think it is from the actual stories. Freeman makes Azeem both noble and even amusing in his take on "Christian" (as he consistently refers to Robin as) and this world. The film does well in having a positive portrayal of a Muslim, one who is both warrior and scholar.

Prince of Thieves is rather long with story threads that don't seem to fit. The subplot of attempting to restore his father's name after charges of Satanic rites seems odd given the pressure Robin is in. The film also appears to be trying for some vague Arthurian connection with the Witch. One wonders whether the film could have worked better if things had been trimmed or cut.

Still, despite all the flaws in it, I did fall slightly for Prince of Thieves. Even the love song (Everything I Do) I Do It For You, which is so long that it runs nearly the whole length of the credits, made me actually like the film.

Can I call it a 'bad movie I like'? I think so. I'm surprised that I ended up liking Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves the second time round. Maybe I've grown softer and more forgiving. Maybe I just enjoyed myself without thinking things too much. Maybe I just allowed myself to be carried away with the fantasy and paid little heed to the flaws.

What I can say is that I did enjoy Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and I cannot fault a film for that.


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