Director: Kevin Reynolds
Cast: Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Spoilers Within: No
Easily the finest thing about Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is the late Alan Rickman: sporting a generous overemphasis for line delivery and extending his Sheriff (George!) of Nottingham to a droll caricature, his work here is beyond appraisal. It’s a role appropriate of Rickman’s talents, and one that’s eminently fun to watch: venomously spitting remarks about cancelling seasonal holidays or menacing threats of eye-gouging delivered in his pantomime tone worked so well. It’s a far more engaging fantasy romp than, say, Excalibur: actively fighting against its showy stagecraft and successfully avoids getting dragged down with it. (Of course, Excalibur isn’t technically its competing rival, but as sub-genres go, sword and sorcery swashbucklers are one that I’m mostly unfamiliar with).
One criticism has been recited for 25 years for good reason: Kevin Costner is very miscast. In terms of character, it most definitely would have worked better had the actor been an Englishman, but in terms of actors, who in the late 1980s/early 1990s would have been better suited and yet maintain the flavour of the film? There was the too severe Daniel Day-Lewis, or the pre-Sharpe Sean Bean, and depending who you ask, both were fairly ‘big’ during casting calls for Prince of Thieves. It’s harder than you think to posit a replacement actor in the role that Costner was so curiously cast for. Thankfully, Costner decided to keep his American cadence without reaching for a woeful accent: had he tried a East Midlands inflection, it could have been more distracting and ardently annoying than what he actually went for. The casting disasters continued, specifically Morgan Freeman who could have been granted something much better to work with, but even he – in light of the mild, sweeping racism – comes out ahead of Christian Slater’s overzealously bitter Will Scarlett and Nick Brimble’s wacky Little John. Each character is a fitting anachronism of the period, but none of them hold up well under scrutiny.
Though most of the action is clumsily shot and primarily lacking in suspense, the final siege on Nottingham Castle is the ideal climax: the infiltration over the castle walls and final showdown(s) are simple, but they match the great sense of fun that’s often teased. Each jab, stab and arrow is received with a poised appetite for histrionic violence: a bombastic, summer blockbuster that chiefly utilised weapon and animal training with stunt choreography long before CGI began to seep its way into the industry. The practical action gives the feeling of an epic swashbuckler even though the scale is much smaller, which is not an easy feat when concerning such a modest, popular story.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is an admissible Sunday afternoon film: adventurous and campy with a wonderfully catchy score, a series of corny, mawkish one-liners and lively pantomime gesticulating, but the bottom line is that it feels as though it would have been more enjoyable had it been associated with childhood memories, of which mine only extend to hearing Bryan Adams’ chart-smashing theme song on a daily basis.