Darth Vader. Batman. Captain James T. Kirk. Now another legendary figure gets the origin-story treatment in Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood."
The world probably didn't need another version of this famous tale, even though it arrives with outstanding production values and an impeccable pedigree. Besides Scott, the script comes from Oscar-winning "L.A. Confidential" writer Brian Helgeland, and the heavyweight cast is anchored by Russell Crowe as the title character and Cate Blanchett as Marian. (Solid supporting work comes from Mark Strong, William Hurt, Eileen Atkins, Matthew Macfadyen and the excellent Max von Sydow.)
This Robin Hood is not a man in tights — he's not even robbing from the rich and giving to the poor just yet — but rather an expert archer in the crusading army of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) at the turn of the 13th century.
Working with "Gladiator" director Scott for the fifth time, Crowe is hulking and overly serious, and the same can be said of "Robin Hood" itself. With its sweeping scope and tangible grittiness, it does look great: an old-fashioned epic jazzed up with new technology. Several moments stand out for their imagery, including vast aerial shots and the sight of hundreds of arrows zipping through the air and landing in a thunderous shower.
But then the brawny battle scenes, which set this incarnation apart from its lilting and swashbuckling predecessors, are shot so and edited in such a chaotic, choppy way, it's nearly impossible to tell what's happening. They're all frenzied, kinetic energy.
And the climactic showdown is chock full of cliches, including Robin yelling "Noooo!" in slow motion; meanwhile, other members of his posse magically hit their targets at just the right opportune moment.
Lady Marian is one fierce maid
Long before that — and we do mean long before that — the convoluted plot finds Crowe's Robin Longstride serving in the king's army against the French.
Video: Stars of Sherwood Forest talk ‘Robin Hood’ Once the king dies, Robin returns to England and assumes the identity of one of his noblemen (also dead) in order to bring back the crown, which then goes to his cocky, tax-happy brother, John (Oscar Isaac). The new king's right-hand man, Godfrey (Strong, always a convincing villain), encourages him but is also in cahoots with the French. "Robin Hood" is not a documentary.
But Robin also visits the dead man's home in Nottingham to return his sword to his blind and aging father, Sir Walter Loxley, played by von Sydow with exquisite humor and dignity.
There he meets Lady Marian, who was married to Loxley's son for all of a cup of coffee before he went off to battle. This is no delicate damsel but rather a thick-skinned pragmatist who knows her way around a sword; to borrow Tyra Banks' favorite word, Blanchett is fierce.
Robin also assumes the identity of Marian's husband to keep up appearances and allow the family to retain its 5,000 acres, and so it's no surprise when they end up falling for each other for real. Crowe and Blanchett's scenes are compelling primarily because they allow us to watch two bona fide movies stars — ones who can really act — sharing the screen as well as some snappy banter. But when the movie feels the need to spell out their emotional connection, it turns mundane.
Eventually, Robin assembles a band of men — some of whom are kind of merry — to take on the French invasion Godfrey has helped orchestrate. As they storm the beaches of England, it's all very "Saving Private Ryan." But bringing to mind the superior epics "Robin Hood" resembles doesn't exactly help its cause.
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