Bid farewell to fond fantasies of Robin and his Merry Men romping through Sherwood Forest. Re-teaming with his “Gladiator” star Russell Crowe, Ridley Scott has envisioned a grim, un-romantic ‘origin’ tale serving as a prequel to the classic folklore, explaining why and how orphaned archer Robin Longstride became England’s legendary outlaw.
Returning in 1199 A.D. from his Third Crusade, King Richard the Lion-Heart (Danny Huston) dies in battle. Brawny Robin Longstride retrieves the fallen crown and, assuming the identity of a fallen knight, Sir Robert Loxley, returns it to Richard’s mother, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eileen Atkins), who passes it on to her last remaining son, the wastrel Prince John (Oscar Isaac). Accompanied by his loyal cohorts – Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes) and Little John (Kevin Durand) – Robin then fulfills a deathbed promise to Loxley by riding to impoverished Nottingham to return a family sword to elderly Sir Walter Loxley (Max Von Sydow), who reveals Robin’s murky origins. He also falls in love with the dead knight’s high-spirited, tough-minded widow, Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett), who agrees that Robin must continue to impersonate her husband so she can claim the Loxley land. Meanwhile in London, King John is duped by the duplicity of his bilingual advisor (Mark Strong) leading up to a French invasion of England’s coastline as rebellious Robin spearheads a Saxon peasant revolution.
Screenwriters Brian Helgeland, Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris deliver a joyless, character-driven medieval history lesson, filled with serious declamations about oppression, individual rights and justice, leading up to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. Ridley Scott adds an inordinate amount of realistic, graphic violence, reminiscent not only of “Gladiator” but also “Saving Private Ryan.” While the lengthy, detail-oriented production is visually splendid, Russell Crowe is almost devoid of charisma, barely sparking with Cate Blanchett.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Robin Hood” is a savage 6, burdened, perhaps, by swashbuckling cultural expectations that hark back to fun, far different interpretations by Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Errol Flynn, Richard Greene, Sean Connery and Kevin Costner.