TBT – Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

alan rickman, films, in memoriam, Morgan Freeman, review, swords, TBT, unintentionally funny

So it’s been four throwback Thursday’s since Alan Rickman died and I’m still remembering him through his classic films. I was only planning to do this for a month to properly mourn his passing but I’m tempted to continue indefinitely until I get all the good ones. There are still a few to chose from and I’d be keen to rewatch them. This weeks film is one I haven’t seen in a long time and was both a fantastic and awful thing to do to myself. Watching the film was fucking hilarious because it has not aged well. The major consequence was having the fucking abysmal Bryan Adams song ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ in my head all day. I’ve never wanted to bash my head with a frying pan more than I have today.

The legend of Robin Hood is one that has understandably struck a chord with people’s imagination. A brave archer who steals from the rich and gives to the poor and still manages to save the damsel in distress: he’s exactly the kind of guy young kids grow up wanting to learn about. It’s no wonder, then, that he has a long history with films. He is surrounded by excitement, romance and morality. Still, there had been better versions of his tale before and there have been better since. It’s certainly weird watching Kevin Reynolds 90s modernised version in the wake of the BBCs recent television series starring Jonas Armstrong.

It’s not possibly to say that Reynolds’ film stands the test of time and looks more outdated now than some of the earliest films about the eponymous hero probably do. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves takes the story that we are all so familiar, a band of outlaws taking money and distributing it to the poor, and tries to sex it up. Robin (Kevin Costner) is joined by Azeem (Morgan Freeman), a Moor Robin helped escape from prison and who has vowed to save Robin’s life in return. The Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) becomes more than just greedy and has turned to the dark arts to attempt to take the throne from the departed King Richard. Newly returned from the Crusades, Robin finds his father dead and vows revenge on the Sheriff and those who helped him… whilst still trying to woo the lovely Maid Marion (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). 

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is one of my ultimate guilty pleasure movies. There’s so much to dislike about it but it’s so fucking awful that it’s something you can’t stop watching. I mean the performances and the script are pretty horrendous and often verge into unintentionally funny. The scenarios are just bizarre at times and the references to other movies is just weird. The fight scenes are so confusing and badly directed that its difficult to see what’s going on. The costume design is just misjudged and the sets are inconsistent. It can also boast one of the most annoying songs in film history, probably tying with Armageddon for first place. It’s a terrible song and you can see why Reynolds kept it out of the film as much as possible.

It’s also an incredibly dark film: both literally and figuratively. Literally, because most of the action takes place in a fucking forest or a castle lit only by candles. Figuratively, because it’s really ducking gruesome for a family film. There’s so much death, torture, sex and devil worship on display and that’s before you get to the final act which is just a lengthy scene of attempted rape intercut with classic one-liners from the Sheriff of Nottingham. The film has a really weird tone which doesn’t work at all with the hero as we know him. Overall, is a totally misjudged and badly made film but I fucking love it.

When it comes to our hero, Kevin Costner is particularly dull and decides to go against the norm and play him as an introspective and quiet hero rather than the dashing and sassy man in tights he usually is. He even forgoes the wacky hat and joyful demeanour for a brooding look. Costner really never quite gets the tone of Robin right and, because of Costner’s insistence that we get some backstory to Robin’s life, he is a man wounded by his experience fighting in the Crusades. I much preferred the fox in Disney’s version. At least he always tackled his crazy schemes with a fucking smile on his face.

Then there’s the underwhelming love story that really only takes place because it has to. Maid Marion, on the whole, isn’t that abysmal and has some real moments of brilliance. She isn’t the shy and retiring type when we first meet her and can actually hold her own in a fight. That is until she, very quickly, falls in love with Robin and becomes the helpless damsel who needs to be rescued. Still, Mastrantonio comes across much better than fellow American Christian Slater who plays outlaw Will Scarlett. All three actors struggle with attempting a British accent but Slater fails to convince as an Englishman on so many levels I’m kind of embarrassed for him. Plus, he has one of the least secretive secret histories of any movie character to date.

So, why, I hear you cry, do I love this film so much? For the same reason anyone does. Alan Rickman. Rickman is in a completely different film to anyone else. Rickman actually has fun with his role. He’s anything but subtle but that’s what we need. He delivers every line perfectly and it’s always dripping with venom. This is Rickman at his most venomous but, it’s important to note, he’s also incredibly funny with it. To say he’s the best thing about this film isn’t saying much but he’s no doubt the reason people come back to this film so often. It’s Rickman’s film and he fucking smashes it. 

The Three Musketeers (2011)

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I must admit I didn’t have very high hopes for this latest adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ novel as any attempt since the 1973 version, directed by Richard Lester, has never quite felt right. Even the one starring Kiefer Sutherland and my love for him has allowed me to put up with a lot of shit over the years. Although, it does star Rome star Ray Stevenson who I appreciate almost as much.

The latest version from Resident Evil’s Paul W.S. Anderson is perhaps the closest you can get to a modernised version of a narrative set during the reign of Louis XIII. For the most part, the film stays close to Dumas’ original: the young D’Artagnan leaves for Paris and is introduced to musketeers Athos, Porthos and Aramis. The four then find themselves mixed up in a political plot in which they must stop the villainous Cardinal Richelieu overthrowing the young King.

Although the writers obviously felt that a modern audience would not be able to accept this simple tale of four men fighting for King and country so we find ourselves in a steam punk version of seventeenth century France complete with airships armed with machine guns and flame-throwers. The three main characters become more than the traditional sword wielding defenders of the French Monarchy and find themselves becoming examples of a more modern action hero.

Anderson has certainly attempted to bring some fun into this well known story but it ends up being a ridiculous and mind boggling experience. The film tries not to take itself too seriously and the opening sequence is a perfect example of this. With images lifted straight from Batman, The Matrix and video games, such as Assassins Creed, the three musketeers are introduced in an blur of romance, violence and booby traps. This part of the film is actually well played out, if you ignore the awful slow-motion fight sequences (something that has not only become one of the most annoying of Hollywood clichés but also something that is pulled off much more successfully elsewhere) and the odd faces Matthew MacFadyen pulls as he wields his rapier. Anderson certainly embraces the swashbuckling side of the narrative.

However, there is something about the film that prevents this attempted light-hearted attitude ever fully taking over. Unfortunately for Anderson, there is a lot more to Dumas’ tale than non-stop action. It relies on political treachery, heart ache and double-crossing spies. It is these elements that gives Anderson most of his problems. For the most part he attempts to push them into the background but when it is necessary his attempts are fairly pathetic.

The main offender is the failed romance between MacFayden’s, Athos, and Milla Jovovich’s, Milady. It is something that we are supposed to believe continually haunts Athos but it is barely given any prominence. After the opening scene it is only briefly referred to again in a few conversations. The romance was never believable meaning its destruction is utterly pointless.

To argue that the film’s major positive is that is does not take itself too seriously is both a flimsy argument and, more importantly, a fallacy. A film that is at its heart a political drama cannot completely commit itself to this sense of fun. Anderson seems to be completely perplexed by the actual story he tries to introduce. The plot to overthrow the King is rushed and certainly secondary to the visual aspects.

The film falls down dramatically from it’s poor script and terrible narrative structure. The script is littered with the expected Hollywood clichés as well as more than enough plot holes and unanswered questions. At it’s best the script is laughable and at it’s worst is painful. Take for example any of Athos’ speeches about being a damaged individual driven to drink and despair or the excruciating scene played out between D’Artagnan and his father before he leaves for Paris.

Although, despite the excruciating language, the aspect of the film that annoyed me the most was the overuse of CGI. Mostly because it is an obvious attempt to distract the audience from the poor craftsmanship of the whole thing. The main objective seems to have been to make sure as much was happening on screen as possible in the hope that the audience stopped listening to the words or noticing the acting.

The whole film has an air of desperation after it’s acceptance that there is little substance behind the gaudy spectacle. Of course saying this, there will always be a part of me that finds immense joy from watching these familiar characters outwitting the evil Cardinal and totally annihilating armies of men. Since I first watched the 1973 version I have had a secret desire to one day become a musketeer and, despite his shortcomings, Anderson has reignited my desire to smite my enemies with my trusty blade.