Robin Hood doesn't get to do much of it in the new Russell Crowe-Ridley Scott epic. Granted, it is a prequel that strives to develop a new generation's awareness of the character (and a new "tent pole" for Universal Studios in the process). Unfortunately, most of the audience members I viewed and discussed it with agreed the film should have started where it ends instead of being the slog of a history lesson it is.
Essentially Gladiator updated to the 12th century, even repeating the impressive airborne-arrow attacks from Crowe & Scott's earlier success, this Robin Hood (Crowe) is a sullen veteran of the Crusades who is tasked with returning the late King Richard the Lionheart's crown to his mother, Eleanor of Acquitane (a fine, tongue-in-cheek Eileen Atkins). Her other son, the wicked John (Oscar Isaac, who played the peaceful Saint Joseph in The Nativity Story), becomes king by default and promptly sets out to offend and divide everyone in Britain, even as invaders from France led by the duplicitous Sir Godfrey (villain du jour Mark Strong, last seen as the baddie in Sherlock Holmes) are landing on their shores.
Robin, initially surnamed Longstride, gradually makes his way to Nottingham in order to deliver a fallen soldier's sword to his father (the always-welcome Max Von Sydow). Once there, he meets and falls in love with the soldier's widow, Marian (Cate Blanchett), who is both too old and too married to be a "Maid." Robin also makes the acquaintance of such traditional figures as Friar Tuck (a fun Mark Addy), the now-neutered Sheriff of Nottingham, and initial members of his fabled "Merry Men."
While screenwriter Brian Helgeland seems more concerned with historical accuracy than the Robin Hood legend, his research is impressive. Also impressive are all the technical aspects (cinematography, editing, special effects, costumes, etc.) of this production. In the end, though, it made me long for the similarly grimy Robin and Marian (1976) and even for 1991's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Kevin Costner may have been miscast in the title role, but at least it was entertaining.
I am intrigued by how a new incarnation of Robin appears on the big screen every 16-20 years. The outlaw's fight against greed and tyranny clearly continues to resonate through history to each new generation. It's too bad that the current version doesn't serve the legacy as well as its predecessors.
UPDATE: Robin Hood is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.