The Robin Hood legend has been a staple of Hollywood cinema since Douglas Fairbanks slapped on a pair of tights and pranced around a backlot Sherwood Forest in 1922. Since then, Errol Flynn, a Disney cartoon fox, Kevin Costner, and Cary Elwes have all played the role, each with their own take, but the core appeal of the character remained unchanged.
Robin Hood is an outlaw, plain and simple. He’s a rebel who robs and steals and does it with a smile on his face and swagger that ensures the audience as well as his Merry Men that he’ll never be caught and no harm will come to them.
Director Ridley Scott reteams with Russell Crowe in “Robin Hood,” the $200 million blockbuster that does its best to avoid major action movie clichés before finally yielding to almost all of them.
To Scott and writer Brian Helgeland’s credit, their version of “Robin Hood” adds some depth and complexity to the character and removes a certain amount of the certainty that existed in previous iterations of the titular hero.
Crowe plays Robin Longstride, an English archer fighting in King Richard The Lionheart’s army, as they make their way back to London after an unsuccessful Crusade. Longstride and his comrades Will Scarlet and Little John make their own way back to England after a failed castle raid leaves the army without their king. After discovering an ambush gone wrong, Longstride is tasked by a dying Robert Loxley to deliver his family sword to his ailing father.
“Robin Hood” intelligently deals with mythmaking and what happens when greatness and leadership is thrust on a person, rather than pursued. Longstride eventually poses as Loxley in a ruse to keep possession of the Nottingham estate.
Crowe plays Robin Hood with a caged vulnerability and quiet intelligence, replacing the brash confidence normally associated with the character with a resolved determination. And because “Robin Hood” is essentially a prequel to the story most audiences are familiar with, “Robin Hood” is welcomely unpredictable.
Scott manages to balance the first two hours of the movie between epic setpieces (though he uses one too many swooping computer-generated landscape shots) and personal exchanges between the main characters. The chemistry between Longstride and his Merry Men is tangible, but his three cohorts could use a couple more scenes together to strengthen their bond.
But Scott’s uncharacteristic restraint quickly falls apart, come the movie’s final battle, which gives way to men screaming and charging at enemies offscreen, rampant slow motion, and blatant bow-and-arrow porn.
What’s more, the movie wraps up rather haphazardly, injecting redundant voiceover narration and a brief montage that rushes through the events that follow the climax. It’s the visual equivalent of telling a long, detailed story and yadda-yadda-yaddaing through the conclusion. And the final insult is a sheet of parchment that reminds us, “The legend begins.” Thanks, but we just spent the last 140 minutes figuring that out.