Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a weird film. No, really. Drop any preconceptions based on nostalgia for those awesome Kenner action figures and re-watch the flick with a fresh perspective. As a kid, I enjoyed the action, romance, and Michael Kamen’s terrific score, but watching Kevin Reynolds’ 1991 blockbuster today, on its 30th Anniversary, it’s clear from the start that the film has no idea what it wants to be and ends up feeling like a hodgepodge of conflicting ideas. Sure, it still works, but it’s mostly a disjointed experience.
For starters, what’s with all the devil worship talk? I’ve never read any of the Robin Hood stories and so much of my knowledge of the popular figure stems from that Errol Flynn movie and the Disney cartoon, neither of which make any reference to Satanic rituals or witches … and yet, in Prince of Thieves, the Sheriff of Nottingham pals around with a freaky old hag who lives underneath the castle and spends her days performing blood rituals next to upside-down crosses.
The director’s cut is even more bizarre as it turns out the witch is actually the Sheriff’s mum, and her witchcraft is mostly parlor tricks – she actually spies on her son via holes in the castle walls, which is really weird.
My guess is, in order to distinguish Prince of Thieves from the other 100 or so Robin Hood iterations that came before, particularly the Disney version, Reynolds strived for a much darker, grittier tone. The problem is that these grimmer elements contrast sharply with the more lighthearted aspects of the production. Case in point: the opening 15 or so minutes of the picture, which kicks off with Kamen’s sensational theme, promising adventure, fun, and romance.
Yet immediately following this title sequence, we are thrust into a sequence in which a bunch of bad guys chops the hands off of starving prisoners. This is actually our introduction to Kevin Costner’s heroic Robin of Locksley and Morgan Freeman’s badass Azeem.
If that weren’t enough, the next scene sees Robin’s dad killed by the Sheriff’s cult-like followers (who are never referenced again) — they also cut the eyes out of poor Duncan, citing devil-worshipping as the main reason. Okay. Robin then vows revenge for the death of his pop, which is, ahem, quite the departure for such a notoriously free-spirited character.
Yet, there are moments where you can see the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves should have been, such as Robin’s initials interaction with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s Maid Marian and scattered moments of comedy like the one below.
Even the romantic bits, such as when Marian visits Robin’s camp in Sherwood Forest, are terrific.
The action sequences are also quite stellar, including the goosebumps-inducing flaming arrow bit.
Even the big climactic sword fight packs a punch, despite being as far removed from the heavily choreographed Errol Flynn fight sequences as a stripper is from church.
Plus, there’s also Alan Rickman’s terrific, scene-stealing performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham, which feels ripped from a completely different movie, which actually prompted Mastrantonio to quip, “I want to be in his film” while on set. (Of course, the less said about that weird scene in which the Sheriff hilariously attempts to, um, have his way with Marian, the better! To say nothing of Christian Slater’s rather pointless Will Scarlett, who wants to kill Robin for being his brother, but then quickly forgives him for being his brother.)
At any rate, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves has moments that are actually quite stellar, and critics be damned, I always enjoyed Costner in the title role. His Robin Hood isn’t a traditional hero, and spends far too much time brooding, but he offers enough charm and charisma to keep the film afloat even while it veers into strange territory.
So, 30 years later, the film remains a curious blockbuster with plenty of positives to go with the negatives. If you can get over some of the film’s bizarre decisions, and enjoy the spectacle, you might find yourself entranced by its schizophrenic tone.
At the very least, you’ll spend a lot of time trying to get that Bryan Adams song out of your head.