robin hood prince of thieves quarantine

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: It’s Robin Hood – for the ’90s! The legendary outlaw gets an origin story full of grit and nasty details – Robin Hood literally rubs horse shit on himself at one point – but also understands how to have fun. That’s more than can be said for the many attempts to reboot Robin Hood since this film came out.

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves feels like a relic from a long-ago time. There have been two big attempts to reboot the character – one directed by Ridley Scott in 2010, and a recent entry in 2018 that had Robin firing arrows in slow-motion while jumping off rooftops. Both of those films were a bust – Scott’s was dreadfully dour while the 2018 film was trying way too hard to emulate The Dark KnightPrince of Thieves has none of those problems. Sure, it attempts to be gritty at times, and it’s far darker than the classic 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood. But this movie also understands that no one wants to watch an overly-serious Robin Hood movie. They want action, and adventure, and romance, and questionable accents! And they get all that, and more.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves didn’t exactly wow critics, and to this day, the reaction to the 1991 film seems to be a bit mixed. But it was also a mammoth hit, and while its flaws are more glaring then ever, they’re not enough to sink the film. Sure, Kevin Costner‘s “English” accent comes and goes at will. And sure, there’s some very weird, distracting casting (Christian Slater should never, ever be in a movie that takes place before the 1980s and outside of California). But there’s a grand, sweeping embrace of adventure here that modern blockbusters can’t beat. While this film is nowhere near as good, it at times feels cut from the same cloth as the delightful The Mask of Zorro.

The story: Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner) has been fighting the Crusades for the last few years, and he’s in danger of having his hand chopped off while imprisoned in Jerusalem as soon as the opening credits end. Robin manages to escape with help of another prisoner, a Moor named Azeem (Morgan Freeman). Together, the two travel to England, where Robin finds his father murdered and the eeeeeevil Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) in control. It goes without saying that Rickman is the best part of this whole damn movie. The actor reportedly turned the part down and eventually agreed once he was told he would have free rein to do whatever the heck he wanted with the part. Rickman’s decision was to make the Sheriff as over-the-top as possible. But because Rickman was such a great actor, the over-the-top-ness never gets old. It’s consistently a hoot to watch Rickman’s Sheriff stalk around, scowling and shouting and doing a lot of acting with his teeth.

Now an outlaw, Robin soon gathers a band of merry men in the wilds of Sherwood Forest and sets about making Nottingham’s life a living hell. When he’s not robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, Robin is wooing his childhood friend, Lady Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). Mastrantonio is funny and feisty here, striving very hard to elevate her character above the damsel in distress the script eventually turns her into.

Much has been said about Costner’s performance here – particularly his wonky accent. But you know what? I really don’t mind it. Sure, there are times where Robin sounds very American. But Costner is such an affable, charming actor that he makes it work. Mostly. I know over the years some have criticized Costner as being too wooden, but I’ve always enjoyed his acting style, which is very unshowy and naturalistic.

Since this was a ’90s take on the story, there are lots of bells and whistles. When Robin fires an arrow into another arrow, we get arrow-cam, as the camera appears to be mounted on the shaft of the arrow and zooming towards its target, Evil Dead-style. And it’s not enough to have the Sheriff of Nottingham be a standard bad guy. Instead, he’s a Satanist, and he’s spent his life being raised by an evil witch (in a deleted scene, it’s revealed that the witch is actually his mother). There are cannibals, fireballs, hangings, a scene where Robin does his best John McClane impression by swinging along the side of a building, and, yes, a Bryan Adams song, “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.”

Whatever you think of that song (it’s fine), it can’t hold a candle to the film’s actual score, a bombastic, triumphant wall of sound courtesy of Michael Kamen (the famous fanfare of trumpets from this theme would go on to be the theme music used for the Morgan Creek production logo). Kamen’s sweeping, all-hands-on-deck score is so good it tricks you into thinking Prince of Thieves is better than it actually is, and that’s no small feat.

But best of all, Prince of Thieves is entertaining. The Robin Hoods that came after this (with the exception, of course, of Robin Hood: Men in Tights) were trying so hard to be taken seriously. They’re also both essentially prequel films – long affairs that are meant to set everything up so all the “good stuff” can happen in the sequel. Prince of Thieves never makes that mistake. It’s a one-and-done adventure, and that’s all it needs to be.

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