Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Directed by Kevin Reynolds
Starring Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Alan Rickman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Released on June 14, 1991
Running time: 2h 23m
Genre: Adventure, Action
Back in 1938, The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn was released, winning three Academy Awards, as well as being nominated for Best Picture. It was a joyous Technicolor glory, and it is commonly regarded as cinema’s best dramatization of the Robin Hood legends.
In 1991, the creators of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves wanted their movie to be huge. “Kevin Costner is Robin Hood.” But when the film came out, it only received slightly better reviews than Kevin Reynolds’s later film … Waterworld. Oh, goody. Also, Kevin Costner won Worst Actor at that year’s Razzies. By the way, Kevin Reynolds not only directed Waterworld, but also directed a highly inaccurate adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo starring Jim Caviezel (who is amazing as always) and Guy Pearce. Thank heaven that Kevin Reynolds recently directed the solid Risen.
In the year 1191, King Richard the Lionheart led his countrymen on the Third Crusade to reclaim the Holy Land from the Muslims. However, Richard was captured by Leopold of Austria and held for ransom. In Richard’s absence, his treacherous brother, Prince John, usurped the throne. He legislated massive taxes onto the English populace. The Sheriff of Nottingham and John’s many knights brutally enforced them. Enter a young knight from Locksley named Robin. Robin formed the oppressed English citizens into a particularly effective guerilla fighting force based out of Sherwood Forest. They stole from the oppressive dictatorship to feed the poor and helpless, and to pay King Richard’s ransom of one hundred thousand gold marks. This fighting force includes such men as Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Allan-a-Dale, Much the miller’s son, and many others. Robin, now known as Robin of the Hood, or Robin Hood for short, met, fell in love with, and married Lady Marian Fitzwalter, who is King Richard’s ward. That’s the basic gist of the Robin Hood legends. Sure, there are plenty of events that happen after that, such as King Richard’s eventual return, but this is the basic idea.
Too bad that Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves has about as much respect for the legends as Frozen has for the story it was based on. Which is very little.
Our opening credits are overlaid on a Middle Age painting as a fantastic opening theme plays. Judging from its mood and tone, you’d expect a happy, lively swashbuckling adventure in the same vein as the 1938 version. Unfortunately, this movie does not gift us with such a luxury.
We transition to Robin of Locksley (Costner), held captive by Muslims in Jerusalem, even though he never actually participated in the Crusades. Those of you expecting a fun time will be seriously disappointed, because this first scene shows a guy getting his hand chopped off offscreen. Through some incredibly strange circumstances, Robin breaks free, frees his friend Peter, and, for some reason, despite the cries of his fellow countrymen, frees a Moor named Azeem (Freeman). They escape, climbing out of a sewer covered by a manhole (bullhonky). Peter is killed, but not before making Robin swear to look after his sister, Marian. Azeem informs Robin that because Robin saved his life, he owes him a life debt until he returns the favor. The two begin their journey back to England.
When was Azeem the Muslim ever present in the Robin Hood legends? What made Robin want to save him rather than, I don’t know, his fellow countrymen? Oh, wait, I know why. Because political correctness and diversity for the sake of diversity. By the way, Azeem was the butt of many jokes in Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
Kevin Costner doesn’t even attempt a British accent. In fact, the only non-British actor to attempt an accent is Christian Slater, and his attempts are … less than spectacular.
Back home in England, at Locksley Castle, Robin’s father is penning a letter to…someone. Apparently Robin’s father either has Elvish penmanship (sorry, Doug) or writes his letters in an obvious Microsoft Word font. One of Locksley’s men tells him that a grouped of hooded, cloaked, and masked men are at the main door. Knowing who they are, Robin’s father goes to meet them. When he does, the leader of this group removes his mask, revealing himself to be none other than the Sheriff of Nottingham (Rickman). And the men he’s leading are eerily reminiscent of a particularly hateful group of racist, anti-Catholic, racial collectivist, far-left Democrats who became particularly notorious during and after the American Civil War. Yes. The Sheriff of Nottingham is the Grand Wizard of a medieval version of the Ku Klux Klan. So Robin’s father … essentially puts up a final stand as he is killed. By the way, the dialogue pulls this cliché:
SHERIFF: Join us or die.
ROBIN’S FATHER: Never.
Four months later, Robin and Azeem arrive back in England. Robin has a mullet now, and it’s really effing tacky. Also, the sloppily written dialogue starts to become really noticeable around now. The dialogue is constantly switching back and forth between archaic and modern, and it’s really noticeable when it does. And the archaic sentences sound incredibly tacky coming out of the mouths of American actors. Worse, whenever the archaic sentences are said, you can tell that each word is never used in its proper vernacular. Anyway, as Robin and Azeem make their way towards Locksley, they walk along Hadrian’s wall, which is nowhere near Nottingham. We get an entire scene dedicated to Robin walking under what is known as the Robin Hood tree, telling Azeem that many women have lost their virgin lips to him under that tree. Robin deduces that Azeem was imprisoned because of a woman, even though in Muslim culture, women are second-class citizens, are treated as property, are allowed to be beaten if they are rebellious, are at fault if they are raped, and child brides are very common. Robin pressures Azeem into revealing the woman’s name while Azeem is asking Robin to tell him which way is east. Azeem reveals that the woman’s name was Jasmina (with the J pronounced as a Y), Robin points eastward, and Azeem gets out his prayer rug, faces Mecca, and prays to Allah. This scene is entirely pointless. Also, it contains Costner’s best acting in the entire movie, which means that it’s all downhill from here.
And then Robin comes across six soldiers surrounding a tree. A young teenage boy is in the tree. Robin goes over to the soldiers and tells them off for trespassing on his land, giving them his name to tell them of his authority. Despite this, the soldiers’ leader (played by a terrible Michael Wincott), clearly a hired thug with a dirty face, a slurred, rough voice similar to Krusty Klown’s, and bad teeth, orders his men to kill Robin. Robin fights them off, killing all save the leader, and saving the boy in the tree. By the way, Azeem was busy praying during the fight. Robin holds his sword to the leader’s neck. Before I go on, I must bring up this scene’s counterpart in the 1938 version. In said scene, Much, the miller’s son, had killed one of the king’s deer for food. He was caught by Sir Guy of Gisborne and some of his men. They were about to kill Much, but Robin and Will Scarlet showed up. After Robin threatened Sir Guy with his bow and arrow, Sir Guy and his men retreated, and Much eagerly pledged his loyalty to Robin. However, in this 1991 version, the boy in the tree is named Wulf rather than Much, and he is not the miller’s son. Whose son he is will be mentioned later. Also, way to insert a kid character into the story to appeal to younger audiences. Anyway, Wulf had also killed one of the king’s deer for food, the brutish thug and his goons threatened Wulf, were challenged by Robin, and all save the thug were killed. Robin asks the thug his name. Here’s where I balked: the thug’s name is Sir Guy of Gisborne, the Sheriff of Nottingham’s cousin. This is Sir Guy? This is Sir Guy. This is Sir Guy. Instead of the dignified and gloriously evil man who not only served Prince John with all his might but was still a slimy bastard on his own, we have this assbag. I literally had to pause the movie and spend about a minute asking myself, Wait, what? O…kay, I guess this is supposed to be Sir Guy. But back to the scene. Robin lets Guy go. Wulf, rather than pledging his loyalty to Robin, runs off. Azeem finally shows up. Robin starts to try to berate Azeem for not helping, but Azeem somehow turns it all around by making Robin look like a jerk for asking for his help. Well, eff you too.
We then transition to Obvious Villain Lair, which is really Nottingham Castle, where Guy relates the news to out villain: the Sheriff of Nottingham (Rickman). In the 1930s version, the Sheriff of Nottingham was a short, fat, unintelligent buffoon that was enjoyably devious and inept. However, in this 1991 version the Sheriff, in this scene, is shown to be a pervert, as he is just starting to disrobe one of his whores. No nudity is shown, though, as this film would have had a hard time keeping a PG-13 rating. But this scene is surprisingly adult for a movie aimed at all audiences. The Sheriff is summoned by his hideously ugly witch Mortianna, who foretells the future through blood and chicken bones. She foretells Robin’s uprising and…the Sheriff’s death at the hands of Robin and her death at the hands of Azeem. Uh, spoilers much? Seriously, what in the actual eff is up with this? You just gave away your own ending! Not that it needed to be given away, but still!
Question: Where exactly is Prince John in all of this? Answer: He’s not even in the movie.
That’s a really huge character to leave out of your movie. Prince John was the whole reason Robin even revolted in the first place. Prince John usurped the English throne, oppressed the Saxon people, implemented taxes to secure his position, and used the Sheriff of Nottingham, Sir Guy, and the rest of his knights to enforce them.
In this movie, I’m not even sure if the Sheriff even enacts taxes. He certainly doesn’t have the power to. In fact, I’m not even sure if the Sheriff is even in power. He clearly has zero right to be, having clearly not been named Regent before King Richard left on his Crusade, and having zero royal blood. And even if he married into the royal family, he would still have no right to the throne. For example, the current Queen of England, Elizabeth II, is married, but that doesn’t make her husband King. That’s why the next person in line for the throne is Prince Charles, but he can still abdicate and pass the crown on to his eldest son William.
This is going to be a really long movie to sit through. The fact that it’s almost two and a half hours long doesn’t help the matter.
Robin and Azeem arrive at Locksley Castle to find it deserted and rundown, save for one of Robin’s father’s servants, Duncan, who has been blinded. Robin’s father’s corpse is also found, much to Robin’s initial shock, then indifference. Wow. Robin and Azeem bury the body, and Robin makes a blood oath to avenge his father’s death. Great. They’re adding a “avenging a murdered father” subplot.
Robin and Azeem take Duncan with them as they go to Peter’s castle under the delusion that they’ll find food or shelter there. Azeem and Duncan aren’t allowed in, but Robin is. After Robin goes in to talk to Marian, Duncan launches into brief anti-Muslim diatribe. Duncan is blind, so he can’t see that Azeem is a Moor dressed in such attire. Duncan is briefly horrified when Azeem tells him that he is a Moor. Gee, I wonder if this movie’s going to turn into anti-“racist”-against-Muslims tripe. Robin goes inside the castle and is confronted by a short, stout, middle-aged woman pretending to be Marian. Robin is then attacked from behind by a knight in black. After a brief struggle, the knight is unmasked and revealed to be Marian (Mastrantonio, whose perm clashes with Costner’s mullet almost as much as Cassidy’s hair and Cassidy’s tan in The Gallows. Seriously, did Duran Duran influence this movie’s hairstylists?). By the way, don’t get used to Marian being able to hold her own. It only ever happens in this scene. Also, wasn’t she supposed to be the king’s ward? Why is she not living in the king’s castle? Azeem and Duncan are allowed inside the castle, but they and Robin are only able to be there for a short time before Guy and plenty of his goons are spotted en route to the castle. How are they spotted from so far away? They’re spotted by Azeem, who makes a makeshift telescope, even though the telescope wouldn’t be invented until six hundred years from then by Galileo. Robin has a so-called funny reaction to seeing Guy and his goons through a makeshift telescope. Yes, I know that the Muslim cult-ure stole many various European scientific achievements during their conquests of Jerusalem, but the spyglass was not one of them. Robin, Azeem, and Duncan flee from Marian’s castle to Sherwood Forest, where Robin ignores the legends that Sherwood is haunted (it’s just a set of wind chimes). Guy’s soldiers refuse to enter the forest because of the supposed haunting, so Guy gives up the chase. By the way, Sherwood allegedly being haunted will never be mentioned again. Also, Robin and Marian were kids together, just so you know.
Where are the English accents? Yes, I know that Kevin Costner said that he wasn’t even going to attempt to try an English accent, but nobody is able to pull off an English accent apart from the cast members that are already English. I know that the lack of accents is a small gripe, but the poorly written dialogue becomes even more noticeable when heard from the mouths of those with no accent. Hell, even Morgan Freeman is failing to pull off a Moorish accent.
Robin, Azeem, and Duncan come to a river. As Robin crosses, a rope under the water pulls taut, tripping Robin and sending him falling into the water. A young man on the other side sings a limerick (There was a rich man from Nottingham / Who tried to cross the river / What a dope! / He tripped on a rope! / Now look at him shiver!) to the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel”. This young man is Will Scarlet, played by … Christian Slater?
JOHNNY CAGE (Mortal Kombat): NOOOOOOOOOO!
Seriously, why Christian Slater? He’s a painfully mediocre actor at best and an insufferably bland one at worst. Hell, his last (debatably) good movie he was in was Interview with the Vampire. Also, he does about as well at having an English accent as Michelle Rodriguez in Bloodrayne.
It turns out that this is actually where Robin meets some of his soon-to-be Merry Men. This group’s leader is John Little, who challenges Robin to a staff fight, saying that if Robin loses, he will have to pay a sort of tax for crossing the river. After a poorly choreographed fight that not only lacks the charm of the 1938 version but shows Robin as a bumbling buffoon and Azeem as the smartass assistant, John is soundly defeated, contradicting the Robin Hood legends.
After a scene of a night around a campfire in which 1) Robin contemplates rebelling against the Sheriff, much to the disagreement of John, Will and the others, and 2) acting like Christians are just as savage as Muslims, we cut to the Sheriff praying to an upside-down cross. When he finishes, he flips the cross right-side-up, saying to Mortianna that it’s time for him to go worship his other God. He then flips the cross back upside-down, saying something along the lines of “Oh, what’s the difference?”. Gee, I wonder.
We cut to a Mass, in which the head priest prays to God to bless the Sheriff. This actually is historically accurate, as, at the time, the Catholic Church was suffering from a serious case of greed, and was being bought out by political leaders. In this scene, we learn that the Sheriff is in love with Marian, and that he is planning to raise an army and take the English throne through marrying Marian. Okay, he’s planning to marry Marian to get access to the throne, but why does he need an army?
Robin sneaks into the church, says hi to Marian, and is annoyed that the price on his head is only one hundred gold marks. Robin tells Marian that he plans to make sure that the bounty is increased to over one thousand gold marks, and goes to visit the bishop. He does, but is interrupted by the Sheriff. After giving the Sheriff a nasty slice on the upper cheek, Robin escapes through a few stunts that clearly do not belong in a dark and gritty retelling of the Robin Hood legends. Oh, and just as Robin is escaping, we get this little exchange:
SHERIFF: Locksley! I’m going to cut your heart out with a spoon!
ROBIN: Then it begins!
Talk about a flagrant non sequitur. Also, I’ll discuss Alan Rickman’s acting later.
Robin escapes from the church and Nottingham castle, after which the Sheriff throws a literal temper tantrum that is only slightly less ridiculous than Pussy Darth Vader Wannabe’s tantrums in Star Wars 7.
Robin returns to his Merry Men, who are rightly pissed about what Robin has done ([He] gave [the Sheriff] a sting he’ll not forget). However, Robin defuses the situation quickly.
The next scene shows us literally the only scene that involves the Sheriff and his men terrorizing the lowly peasantry. The peasants flee their destroyed villages and go to Robin in Sherwood. The bounty on Robin’s head is brought up, and Will Scarlet tries to kill Robin. Robin quickly shoots Will in the hand with an arrow. Not only is that the first time we’ve ever seen Robin use a bow in this movie, but Will’s definitely never going to be using that hand again. Oh, wait, I forgot what movie we’re in. Will will be just fine next time we see him. Robin, bored as ever, gives a crappy speech that somehow rallies the peasants together to join Robin. This speech uses one of the biggest clichés in speech history: “The greatest weapon of all is our courage.”
We then get a brief montage of Robin’s Merry Men making bows and arrows, training to use bows and swords, and building a makeshift village in the woods. This village is of such high quality that I asked myself, When did they even have time to train, as well as rob the rich to feed the poor? By the way, this montage begins with the making of arrowheads out of metal that had just been smelted. How the hell did they smelt that metal without a forge? Plus, where the hell did they mine the raw ore?
After the only two or three short bits that actually show Robin and his Merry Men robbing the rich to feed the poor, we cut back to the Sheriff. He’s pissed that not only is Robin stealing everything from the convoys that go through Sherwood, but that the peasants love him. Wait – I could have sworn that Sherwood was haunted. Why did the peasants enter the woods to join Robin if Sherwood is haunted? Why would the Sheriff’s men even think of going into Sherwood if it’s haunted? The Sheriff raises the bounty on Robin’s head, and then drops this line that cements the comicality of his character:
SHERIFF: That’s it then. Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings … and call off Christmas!
Gasp! Call off Christmas?!
JOHNNY CAGE (Mortal Kombat): NOOOOOOOOOOO!
The Sheriff consults Mortianna, who, referring to his scribe, tells him that a tongue offends him and that he should cut it out.
A convoy enters Sherwood, led by Guy of Gisborne. It carries a large box of various riches with it, as well as a carriage filled with barrels of beer. None other than Friar Tuck sits in the beer carriage, and he is drunk off his ass. Robin’s Merry Men attack the convoy, stealing the beer and riches, shanghai-ing Friar Tuck into their cause, and killing all of the soldiers save Guy. Robin welcomes Tuck to the forest, and Tuck believes this to be his divine calling. However, he is taken aback to see Azeem.
Guy returns to Nottingham and confesses his failure to the Sheriff, who, after giving a brief show of faux pity, shanks Guy with a sword. And as Guy falls to the ground, you can clearly see the tube filled with stage blood.
Maid Marian and her handmaid (who is not only not Bess, but will not fall in love with Much) travel to Sherwood in search of Robin. After two Merry Men who have the combined IQ of a shovel try and fail to capture them, Marian forces them to take her to Robin. Unfortunately, Robin is in the middle of a skinny-dip, much to the surprise and slight amusement of Marian. Gee. I wonder if this scene was meant to build up sexual tension between Robin and Marian. But if it wasn’t meant to do that, then what was the effing point?
Robin takes Marian and her handmaid to his HQ, during which we see a few seconds of Friar Tuck giving a sermon to a few Merry Men about – get this – beer. I will admit that this snippet of a sermon made me chuckle.
That night, Little John’s pregnant wife Fanny goes into labor. The baby is about to leave the womb feet-first, almost nobody knows what to do, and unless something can be done, both Fanny and the baby will die. However, Azeem somehow knows what to do. Despite Friar Tuck’s protest, Azeem goes through with his procedure, and the baby is successfully birthed. The Merry Men celebrate, and Friar Tuck apparently sees the error of his ways, offering to share drinks with Azeem.
This is one of few childbirth scenes that I have not teared up at. To give you an idea of what’s up with this scene, I will compare it to the childbirth scene in the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode “The Serpent’s Pass”. I will fully and willingly admit that that childbirth scene made me tear up. Do you know why? Because childbirth is the product of a literal miracle. The act of sexual intercourse is a holy act that results in conception of a living being. It is the literal creation of life. It is the closest we get to having the divine ability to create life. The act of conception is literally creating a living human body that a spirit can inhabit. I’ve never been a father, but I think that the feeling you get when you see your newborn baby and unconditionally love him or her is God patting you on the back and saying, “You done good.” Childbirth is sacred and holy. But in this scene in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves completely removes such sacredness and holiness by shoehorning in political correctness.
As Fanny recovers from childbirth and the Merry Men celebrate, Will Scarlet asks Marian to dance with him, but Robin cuts in immediately after Will pops the question, saying that Marian’s been spoken for. DENIED. Wow. Robin’s kind of a bastard in this, isn’t he? Also, Robin’s mullet and Marian’s perm clash more than … Cassidy’s blonde hair and Cassidy’s tan from The Gallows. Did I say that already?
The next morning, Robin takes Marian to the edge of Sherwood through a back way. Marian all of a sudden loves Robin now, as the two share a kiss despite having absolutely no chemistry. Marian and her handmaid go home, and Robin asks Duncan to go with them to protect them. I wonder if this will ever backfire.
Back at Nottingham castle, the Sheriff consults with Mortianna, who does more witchcraft with blood and spit. She gives the Sheriff the idea to hire the Celts from up north to hunt down Robin and his Merry Men. The Sheriff hires the Celts offscreen, then consults with the Norman barons, who apparently also worship Satan. The barons are pissed that their money has been stolen by Robin Hood, and gladly endorse the Sheriff’s hiring of the Celts.
Marian tries to get a letter revealing the Sheriff’s plans, whatever they are, to either the king of France or to Richard himself (I forget which). Forgetting that the head priest at the church in Nottingham castle has been bought out by the Sheriff, Marian tells him that she needs her letter delivered as fast as possible. Just deliver it through FedEx; it’ll get there within a few days. The head priest sends a man with Marian’s handmaid to deliver the letter. However, en route, the man knocks out Marian’s handmaid.
That night, Marian is home at her castle. After experiencing an “Only a Cat” jumpscare (seriously? WTF?), she is ambushed by the Sheriff’s soldiers, captured, and taken to Nottingham castle. Duncan flees the castle on horseback to warn Robin. But we then get a literal Deus ex Machina that almost makes Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender learning energybending out of nowhere look less cheap. When Duncan flees to Sherwood, he inadvertently leads the Sheriff’s soldiers and hired Celts straight to Sherwood HQ. I told you sending Duncan with Marian would backfire. It backfired in such a way that it resulted in an astoundingly idiotic effort to move the plot forward.
Duncan arrives at Sherwood HQ nearly dead for some reason. Within a few minutes from then, Robin and his Merry Men are attacked by the hired Celts. And these Celts are over a thousand years out of date. Thank heaven that they’ll be portrayed better in Braveheart. Anyway, the Celts initially put up a harsh fight, but they are defeated in less than two minutes and retreat. The Merry Men start to celebrate, but their cries of victory are cut short as the Sheriff’s archers loose flight after flight of flaming arrows into Sherwood HQ, setting it ablaze and destroying it. Much of the Merry Men escape and flee to the surrounding countryside. Friar Tuck gathers the children and they flee farther into the forest. Wulf, Will Scarlet, and several other Merry Men are captured. I told you it was stupid to bring in a kid character to appeal to younger audiences; he just got himself captured. After some funny business involving Little John and Fanny getting separated and Robin saving her, Robin is lost in the battle and is presumed dead.
Movie, don’t even try to act like Robin might be dead. He’s not only the main character, but literally the entire movie is reliant on his survival. It’s just pointless drama for the sake of drama.
Also, how did the burning down of Sherwood HQ not burn down the entire forest?
The Sheriff tells Marian that Robin is dead and that he has captured many of Robin’s Merry Men. However, he would be willing to release them if Marian accepted his marriage proposal. Marian is obviously distressed at Robin’s apparent death, shocked at the magnitude of the defeat of the Merry Men, and disgusted that the Sheriff would use this to force her to marry him.
Insert a brief scene in which the Merry Men sift through the ashes, coals, and rubble, and Robin appears relatively unharmed. By the way, Duncan is dead and buried by now.
Down in the dungeon, the Merry Men are being tortured by the Sheriff’s men. Wulf is never shown being tortured, because showing a child being tortured onscreen would just be tasteless. The Sheriff suspects that Robin may yet be alive, and offers a reward for any of the Merry Men that are willing to find Robin and finish him off.
SHERIFF: Now, I have heard that Robin Hood may still be alive. Either tell me where he may be hiding, or you’ll all be hanged and we’ll catch him anyway and do the same thing to him (Said in an almost comical fashion.
WILL: I’d love to kill him for you.
WULF: Will, no!
SHERIFF: So he is alive, then?
WILL: I’m not really sure.
SHERIFF: Then why would I need you?
WILL: Because, my lord, if he is alive, I can get close to him. I’m one of his men. He would never suspect me.
WULF: He knows you always hated him, traitor!
SHERIFF and WILL: Shut up!
ME: Thank you!
WILL: He’s a trusting fool. He’ll believe me. And if he doesn’t, he’ll kill me. Then you’ve lost nothing.
SHERIFF: If you fail, I will personally remove your lying tongue.
WILL: If I succeed, I get my freedom and the bounty on his head.
SHERIFF: (Aside.) The lash, I think. (To WILL.) Sorry about that. It’ll make it more convincing.
After an incredibly awkward wide angle shot of the Sheriff’s face, Will is released, and he makes his way back to Sherwood. He quickly finds the Merry Men, who immediately see through his façade, attack him, and hold him to be interrogated by Robin. I forgot to mention that Will has always had quite a bone to pick with Robin for various reasons, not the least of which is Robin being of noble blood. Anyway, Will admits to Robin that he told the Sheriff that he would kill Robin so he could go free. Robin then drops these lines, which is another example of how poorly written the dialogue is:
ROBIN: Did I wrong you in another life, Will Scarlet? Where does this intolerable hatred for me come from?
Will then admits that he is a bastard child of Robin’s father. Robin is overjoyed to have a brother. Well, at least as overjoyed as Kevin Costner can be in all his blandness. Robin, Will, and the remaining Merry Men, including Little John and Fanny, express their willingness to fight on until the bitter end.
At Nottingham Castle, the Sheriff, who is obviously drunk, swims in the recaptured gold. After consulting with Mortianna, Mortianna reveals that she herself is the Sheriff’s mother, and that she killed the previous Sheriff’s real son and replaced him with the current Sheriff. Uh, what’s the point of the Sheriff of Nottingham having witchly origin?
After two awkward wide angle shots of the Sheriff and Mortianna, we cut back to the Merry Men making preparations to mount a final attack on Nottingham castle to rescue the captive Merry Men and Marian. Also, no, Azeem! Black powder was from CHINA, NOT the Middle East! Robin and the Merry Men plan the attack.
And through a bunch of silly, unrealistically convenient circumstances, they get into the castle unseen. A massive crowd has gathered in the courtyard to watch the first ten captive Merry Men, including Wulf, hang. The non-captive Merry Men take their positions around the courtyard as the first ten captive Merry Men are brought out to the scaffold. Wulf spots Will in the crowd and attacks him, calling him a traitor. The Sheriff catches eye of the incident and, seeing that it’s Will, he orders the hangman to hang Will too. Nooses are put around the necks of the first ten, but there is no noose for Will. However, the hangman ties him to a barrel, intending to behead him. The stool under Wulf is kicked away, hanging but not killing Wulf. I told you that this movie wasn’t a swashbuckling adventure. Also, I told you that shoehorning in a kid character to appeal to younger audiences wasn’t a good idea. See? He’s getting hanged! Obviously, this causes Little John and Fanny to run toward the scaffold to try and rescue Wulf. The crowd starts getting into an uproar. The hangman starts hanging the rest of the ten, and is about to behead Will when Robin shoots him. Little John makes it to the surprisingly flimsy scaffold and pushes it over, saving the ten Merry Men. Seeing that the day isn’t going his way, the Sheriff drags Marian into the castle. Marian screams for Robin. Robin starts making his way towards rescuing Marian. Azeem gets up onto the ramparts, shouts out a loud, brief, almost incomprehensible speech, and rallies the lowly proletariats to rise up against the Sheriff’s men.
The movie then turns into a literal cartoon in which Robin and Azeem get on a catapult and are rocketed over the walls and somehow land on a pile of hay uninjured.
WILL: F—k me, he cleared it! (This line was actually improvised.)
Through even more silly, almost idiotic circumstances, Robin gets into the room in which 1) the Sheriff has forced the head priest of Nottingham to marry Marian to the Sheriff (Marian is of the house of Fitzwalter, not Dubois.), and 2) The Sheriff comically tries to rape Marian. How the flying eff is that supposed to be funny? It’s rape! It’s carnal knowledge of a woman without consent! That’s not funny! But Robin bursts into the room as the Sheriff is trying to rape Marian. The head priest flees the scene. Azeem encounters Mortianna, who cowers in fear before the man that she herself prophesied would kill her. After two wide angle shots showing Mortianna and Azeem, Azeem kills Mortianna after she tries to kill him.
Friar Tuck comes across the head priest, who is gathering his vast riches and planning to depart as soon as possible. After Friar Tuck feigns giving help, he overloads the head priest’s arms with money, as well as a small bag containing thirty pieces of silver (Judas reference), and then shoves the priest out the window. If the thirty-foot fall didn’t kill him, the weight of all that money crushed his chest. I think we might have been more satisfied with the head priest’s death had we gotten to know him better.
Robin confronts the Sheriff, who briefly gloats about using the sword that used to belong to Robin’s father. And the proceeding fight scene is terrible. I’m not even going to address how terrible it is, except for this: it makes the Kirk versus Gorn fight scene from Star Trek and the Ridley versus Damodar fight scene from Dungeons and Dragons look amazing. I will again refer to the 1938 version of Robin Hood. The final fight scene between Robin and Sir Guy of Gisborne looked incredible. The fight choreography was so good that it even had room to be flashy. Better yet, it was of course going to be good, as Basil Rathbone, who played Sir Guy, was an Olympic-level fencer. And this 1991 version’s final fight scene hangs its head in shame at the 1938 version. Anyway, Robin kills the Sheriff and reunites with Marian. Mortianna, somehow not dead, attacks Robin, but Azeem kills her, having waited until now to fulfill his life debt.
Transition to an arbitrary length of time later. Robin is marrying Marian (Mawwaige. Mawwaige is what bwings us togevvah…today…), but the marriage is interrupted by the arrival of King Richard, played by…Sean Connery? How’d they get him in this? He’s too good for this! Oh, well, at least he still has a while before he does The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Anyway, Richard blesses the marriage, Robin and Marian kiss, Friar Tuck breaks the fourth wall, and the Merry Men cheer as the movie ends. The credits feature a rock ballad that would be heard at weddings for years to come. I’m pretty sure you already know what song I’m talking about.
Oh, and now that the movie is over, I have one major question for this movie’s attempt at recreating the Robin Hood legends on the big screen: where was the archery tournament scene?
What a long movie to sit through. It was over two and a half hours long, but it felt as long as 1900 (over five hours).
When you want to make a movie about the Robin Hood legends, you need to be deciding what elements to leave out, not what elements to shoehorn in. The 1938 version told only the first half of the story, but save for the climax, the movie was amazingly faithful to the legends. But in this 1991 version, the extremely politically correct Muslim Azeem, the witch Mortianna, the pointless child character Wulf, and even Little John’s wife Fanny are all entirely pointless characters pulled out of the screenwriters’ asses in an incredibly lazy and presumptuous attempt to fill in the massive, unfillable hole left by the absence of Prince John. Oh, and killing Sir Guy of Gisborne less than halfway through the movie? Unacceptable.
The movie says it’s for adults, but most of its audience in 1991 was children. Because kids don’t know better. Kids won’t question how an entire village is built in Sherwood practically overnight without the Sheriff’s men noticing. In fact, most people I know who saw it say that it’s a kids’ movie. The movie says it’s for adults, but it’s not treating us like adults. It’s treating us less like adults than the Disney version, and that movie was actually intended for children. It’s acting like we’ve seen these plot points for the first time. It asks us to suspend our disbelief to almost preposterous levels. Whenever Alan Rickman isn’t on screen or there’s no action happening, the movie bores us to tears. In fact, this movie’s spotty, immature plot is entirely reliant on the idea that you already know the Robin Hood legends and are able to fill in the gaps. Not only that, but it borrows so many elements from other media. It stole the title from the Alexandre Dumas novel. It stole plenty of elements from the 1938 version. It stole the Mel Gibson and Danny Glover dynamic from Lethal Weapon. A villain falling out of a window. A villain dying twice. The villain from Die Hard. A villain killing a high-ranking henchman without remorse like Joker killing Bob in the 1989 Batman. The murdered parents plot point. The grim hero. The star and a few scenes from Dances with Wolves. The Satanic cults, the angry and immature Will Scarlet, and the Muslim member of the Merry Men from the TV show Robin of Sherwood.
I’m not going to bother much with the poor dialogue, as I’ve given ample complaints before, but I’ll give you this. Here’s a comparison between the 1938 version and the 1991 version. The fiery, vibrant dialogue of the 1938 version clearly trumps the muddy, stumbling lines of the 1991 version.
COSTNER: Tell the Sheriff – for every harm he does these people, I will visit it back on him tenfold.
FLYNN: I’ll organize revolt, exact a death for a death, and I’ll never rest until every Saxon in this shire can stand up free men and strike a blow for Richard and England!
This movie was built entirely on the star power of its three main actors: Kevin Costner, fresh off his success in multiple-Academy-Award-winning Dances with Wolves, from which he was nominated for Best Actor, Morgan Freeman, still fresh off his success in the multiple-Academy-Award-winning Driving Miss Daisy, from which he was nominated for Best Actor, and Alan Rickman, still fresh off of his success in Die Hard and Truly, Madly, Deeply.
But more on Costner later, after I address Morgan Freeman. Even at his worst, Morgan Freeman is still at least decent, and this is one of those times. His performance in Driving Miss Daisy was infinitely better. It’s also a pity that he kind of sucks at pulling off an Arab accent. But my problems with him are not his acting. My problem is that he’s Morgan Freeman. Nothing negative against the man himself, but whenever he’s onscreen in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, it’s very distracting that, well, it’s Morgan Freeman playing Azeem. All eyes fly to him whenever we see him. I mean, he played one of the best incarnations of God in the twenty-first century. But he’s still a damn good actor, and he deserves praise. I can’t fault his performance in this, even if his character is just a mishmash of politically correct clichés.
Kevin Costner is Kevin Costner. When even Christian Slater gives a better performance, you know Costner screwed up. He’s completely worthless in this film. While his worst performance is either from Waterworld or The Postman, his performance in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is still terribly emotionless. This is even more noticeable when compared to Alan Rickman. I actually confused him for a tree more than once, his performance is so wooden. And yes, Costner admits freely that he didn’t even bother to try to fake an English accent. Costner versus Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is equivalent to William Hurt versus Gary Oldman in Lost in Space. When you make a movie about Robin Hood, it is beyond crucial that the actor who portrays Robin himself is able to carry the role, and if necessary, the entire movie on his shoulders. Kevin Costner cannot. His casting was easily a worse choice than getting Keanu Reeves to play Jonathan Harker in the 1992 Coppola Dracula. Costner was even far too old for the role at thirty-six. Errol Flynn was twenty-nine, and he fit the role perfectly. Costner failed to bring to the role what Flynn was able to bring almost effortlessly: charisma, charm, spirit, exuberance, energy, intelligent wry wit and humor, spirited jovial sarcasm and irony, and actually believable affection for Maid Marian. But as much as I dislike Costner as an actor, his character in this movie is markedly worse. But I will discuss it later.
While Kevin Costner gives a terrible performance in this movie, he is tied for the position of “worst actor in the whole damn movie” alongside Michael Wincott as Sir Guy of Gisborne. But not for the same reason. Costner may be bland, but Wincott is ungodly annoying. His slurred, drunken voice is annoying. His attitude of acting tough but in reality being cowardly is annoying. The fact that he constantly seems out of place almost as much as Christian Slater is annoying. Basil Rathbone portrayed a deliciously dastardly Sir Guy in the 1938 version. Sure, he was hammy and chewed the scenery, but he was never over-the-top, and he fit right into the movie.
Alan Rickman. We lost an acting giant this year, and cinema is a darker place without him. God rest his soul. It’s a pity that his performance in this movie is definitely one of his worst. Not since John Travolta in Battlefield Earth have I seen such a laughably bad performance by such a good actor. I guess Alan Rickman is another name to be added to the list of actors who have mountains of talent but zero ability to survive poor direction. Alan Rickman desperately tries to give off an impression of being deliciously evil, but it seems that halfway through filming, he realized what a poor product he was starring in, and decided to ham his performance up as if it was his last. Either that, or he’s stumbling around the set drunk like Richard Burton in Exorcist 2. Either way, Alan Rickman chewing the scenery is literally the only reason to see this movie.
I know that these actors have talent. I will freely admit that Kevin Costner did do well in Dances with Wolves. Heck, even the rest of the cast does at least okay, though their performances are nothing to write home about. But he, Freeman, and Rickman have to deal with such a puerile script that gives them little to nothing to work with.
At the beginning of the movie, Robin was willing to sacrifice a hand to save his friend at the beginning. When he returns home, his serious attitude disappears for a few minutes when he teases Azeem about love. Though Robin swears vengeance for his father’s murder, the movie for the most part forgets about it, and we find ourselves asking, “Why exactly would Robin even want to take up with a band of outlaws and overthrow the Sheriff of Nottingham?” Costner’s facepalmingly dull performance further undermines the character. When the Sheriff’s men destroy a village and the lowly proletariats come to Sherwood to get help from Robin, Robin says the might-have-been-inspiring line, “By God, we’ll take it back” in the same monotone as every other line of his. When these peasants have clearly been severely maligned and brutalized, Costner’s flat delivery of his lines makes Robin seem oblivious and almost ignorant to the needs of the poor. Even when Robin and his Merry Men return stolen wealth to a village and Robin is told such lines as “God bless Robin Hood”, Costner still has a bored expression on his face. It’s almost like his delivery of the line “My boat” in Waterworld after the Smokers attack, destroy the Mariner’s watercraft, and capture Enola. Costner’s deliveries of his lines are completely emotionless and make Robin look like he completely lacks empathy for the lowly peasantry or even willingness to help them. The extras are putting in more effort! Also, Robin barely uses a bow in this movie.
And then when robbing the rich to feed the poor seems like such a drag to the lifeless Robin, of course we’ll look to our villain, who is clearly having a hell of a time doing his thing. Alan Rickman’s acting also comes into play, and, unfortunately, it turns him into a caricature rather than a character. Alan Rickman was a damn talented actor. He always managed to captivate audiences with his performances. Even in his worst films, he would always at least be trying his damndest to give us performances that we would enjoy. But in this film, Rickman and Costner seem to be in two entirely different movies. Costner can’t decide if he’s in aswashbuckling adventure or Schindler’s List. Rickman seems to think that he’s in an unnecessarily black comedy. Rickman is known for playing complex characters, like Professor Snape from Harry Potter, and calm, restrained bastards, like Hans Gruber from Die Hard or, to a lesser extent (again, the fault of the movie, not Rickman), Elliot Marston in Quigley Down Under. So, the not-exactly-thespian theatrics that Rickman brought to his performance were either his own choice or the choice of the director. On one hand, it’s a decent choice. Though I personally didn’t care much for his performance, Rickman’s performance could be a veritable delight to others. On the other hand, by having Rickman act in such an over-the-top manner, the Sheriff becomes a weaker villain, and there’s less sense of resisting authority when it becomes tyrannical. It’s less impressive than Batman fighting Mister Freeze in Batman and Robin. That bad. And when the most quoted line of the entire movie is the Sheriff saying, “That’s it then! Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings…and call off Christmas!”, you did something wrong, screenwriters. The best Robin Hood movies always make sure that the drama and humor are very delicately balanced. The 1938 version, easily the best retelling of the Robin Hood legends, executed this balance flawlessly. It was very dramatic, but it was always lighthearted. Even in scenes when there was no drama or there was no humor, it was never long before the drama or humor would return. However, in this 1991 version, the drama and humor form the two sides in trench warfare in World War I, although which side is the Tommies and which side is the Fritz is undeterminable. The last minute addition of Costner scenes and deletion of Rickman scenes only made the warfare more prevalent, but the war was still being fought long before the film reached the editing room. Alan Rickman is a good actor, but the Sheriff of Nottingham is a worthless villain. Also, what was the point of him having witchly origins?
But in this film, we have the Sheriff’s attempted rape of Marian. The rape scenes in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion were atmospheric and terrifying, being completely silent except for the amplified ticking of a clock. The rape scene in The Accused gradually built up its shock value before the inevitable rape as Jodie Foster’s character realized more and more of the hole she’d dug herself into before she was finally, shockingly, raped. However, the attempted rape scene in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is intended to be comical. What the actual eff? Rape isn’t funny! It’s a horrible crime, and all those who (actually) commit it deserve to die a slow and painful death! Come on, Kevin Reynolds, you directed Risen! You have better morals than making attempted rape funny! What were you thinking? I don’t remember any rape scenes in children’s movies, except for the prince from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs being a necrophiliac.
Also, since it’s incredibly obvious that the Sheriff and his thugs are supposed to be reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan, does that mean that Robin Hood and his Merry Men are supposed to be the Black Panthers, with Robin being this Che-Guevara-esque figure? Look. I know that the KKK did some very terrible things. But the Black Panthers were simply the African-American equivalent. They were racist against white people. They were militant, violent Communists that killed over a dozen cops in their campaign for black supremacy. They are not who to look up to in the face of the KKK, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be ashamed of them.
Anyway, while Ray Winstone’s angry Will Scarlet on Robin of Sherwood was clearly affected by the rape and murder of his wife, Christian Slater’s angry Will Scarlet in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is just angry because Daddy loved Robin best. While a good version of Robin Hood needs to appeal to modern-day audiences, Slater seems to be directly from the twentieth century. He probably was. He was probably abducted, taken back in time, wiped of his memories, and shoehorned into the twelfth century. Thankfully, his career died with Alone in the Dark.
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Marian does as well as she can, mediocrely delivering her lines and fighting mediocrely when required. Making the best of what she was given was crucial to her character, as the script does her no favors. But she’s no Olivia de Havilland. Mastrantonio just comes across as dry, icy, and sexless. It must have been difficult to try to form some sort of chemistry with Costner, and I have to give her props for attempting the impossible. But it wasn’t just romantic chemistry that did her in. She must have been confused by a plot that specifically dictated that Marian, initially a thoughtful, independent, vibrant feminist, become the stereotypical helpless, screaming damsel in distress, desperately hoping that a sprightly, energetic, dashing young yeoman in Lincoln green and tights with a feather in his cap to come and rescue her, only to be sorely disappointed by a deplorably uninvested Costner. With the rest of the movie feeling desperately politically correct, this just makes the movie as a whole feel even more inconsistent. In fact, the strongest female character – screw it, character in general – in the movie is Fanny, Little John’s wife. She’s tough and witty. She even gets the best line in the movie.
FANNY: I’ve given birth to eight babies. Don’t you talk to me about getting hurt, you big ox.
Fanny also has more chemistry between her and Little John than Robin and Marian. It’s not much, but it’s something. Speaking of Little John, Nick Brimble does surprisingly well, with him and Soo Drouet as Fanny giving the best performances in the whole movie, even beating Morgan Freeman. Little John’s dialogue is clearly trying to make up for the fact that everyone else lacks English speech patterns by including a barrel full of “Buggers”, “Bollocks”, and “Bloody Hells”. Despite this, Nick Brimble does well with his character. It’s a pity that Little John doesn’t really have much to do in this movie. Also, Little John losing the quarterstaff duel? That’s just not right.
What happened to Friar Tuck being a lethal swordsman? Why is he now a drunken bastard? Why does the movie portray him as an anti-Muslim bigot? Why is his cross always in the shot whenever he does something stupid or wrong? Why is the Christianity of Robin Hood and the Merry Men heavily downplayed? Why are the only people who profess to be Christian corrupt or drunken? Why are Christians and Muslims portrayed in such a politically correct way?
If you thought that the script was a big betrayal of Marian’s character, the peasants really get the short end of the stick. The film claims to be about Robin’s mission to help the lowly peasantry. But the peasants in this movie are plain, simple, dull, and actually unintelligent people who need the guidance of authority and leaders to tell them what to do, what to think, and how to act. However, Robin still has lines of “Don’t call me sire” and “Nobility’s not a birthright”.
Mortianna might scare a single three-year-old. Geraldine McEwan is meant to and is trying to play a hideous witch, but her performance is so over the top that she essentially becomes a Disney-esque caricature, albeit one who foretells the future through spit, blood, and chicken bones.
The romance in this movie is not only unnecessarily rushed, with Marian inexplicably falling in love with him after seeing his naked ass by a waterfall, but this relationship between Robin and Marian seems done out of obligation rather than true love (And wuv…twoo wuv…wiw fowwow you…fowevah…), as, well, as I said before, Costner and Mastrantonio had absolutely no chemistry, in part thanks to their lack of shared screentime. In the 1938 version, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland’s chemistry was through the roof! I believed that they could have been a couple in real life! They must have at least been friends, as they worked together on several other movies after The Adventures of Robin Hood!
It’s surprisingly gory for a Robin Hood movie. Well, not necessarily gory, but violent. The first scene shows a hand getting chopped off. The rest of the movie features amputations, burnings, floggings, gorings, hangings, stabbings, explosions, and falls. Hell, the climax features the Sheriff trying to rape Marian.
Even in aesthetic terms, the movie looks subpar. Even its color scheme is very monochrome and dull. It’s all shot in a gloomy, foggy forest, or on cloudy days. It’s never a sunny day. There are no majestic long takes to establish the setting. It’s a pity, as this could have at least added some potentially fantastic shots of what could have been beautiful landscapes. Oh, and at the climax, there are a few wide angle shots tossed in there, and they are very noticeable, and further delegitimize already questionable camerawork.
Even the movie’s sets, costumes, and props are only good enough to be in a decent TV movie rather than a big, Hollywood motion picture epic.
Even the depressingly few action sequences were poorly put together, with awful fight choreography.
Even the soundtrack by Michael Kamen was either too bombastic or too sappy.
If a movie is politically correct just for the sake of being politically correct, then what is even the point?
Overall, it’s not a totally horrible movie, but its messy script, poor directing, spotty plot, sloppy characters, subpar production values, desperate political correctness, and a vast smorgasbord of varying acting skills undermine a movie that could only have been mediocre at best. It’s a fully joyless, fun-less spectacle that at least looks glossy enough to satisfy younger viewers. But children should not watch this film expecting to have a fun, enjoyable time. If so, they will finish the movie wholly dissatisfied. The movie wants to be a dark, gritty adventure, but it contains ten too many lighthearted scenes. The idea of a Robin Hood movie has the words “swashbuckling adventure” written all over it. And a Robin Hood movie is never supposed to be a dark and dismal exercise in tedium.
When I see a Robin Hood film, I expect an exciting, gripping story, not a tired, boring slog through deep mud. Especially when your film opens with such a rapturous orchestral number.
When I’d much rather watch the subpar Disney version, when I would much rather watch the 2010 Ridley Scott version, when I would much rather watch Robin Hood: Men in Tights, you screwed up. Badly.
Thanks, but no thanks.
I’ll be sticking with the Flynn version.
Final verdict: 1 out of 5 stars.