BORIGIN STORY The first installment in Scott's Robin Hood series misses the mark by a long shot.
If it were possible to combine Gladiator and Braveheart into a single film and then surgically extract virtually everything that made those Best Picture winners pure movie magic, what you’d wind up with would be a lifeless, longwinded anti-epic very much along the lines of Ridley Scott’s latest. Talk about missing the mark.
The second of the summer movie season’s major releases suffers from precisely the opposite of the problem afflicting the first. Where Iron Man 2 was overloaded with bad guys and just generally too busy, Robin Hood is an almost two-and-a-half-hour snore in which almost nothing blockbustery happens until the closing credits are nearly ready to roll.
Oh, and minor detail: This isn’t the movie the TV ads and trailer promise. Based on those, a ticket buyer would have every reason to anticipate a gritty, CGI-enhanced retelling of the classic story. You know: Rough folk hero stays a step ahead of the Sheriff of Nottingham, steals from the rich, gives to the poor, woos Maid Marian, buckles his swash with the Merry Men in Sherwood Forest and performs mind-blowing feats with a bow and arrow.
You can forget about most of that. Scott has big franchise plans and evidently decided the fun can wait until we get the origin story out of the way. So what we sit through is a long, convoluted, almost-never-merry setup in which Russell Crowe plays Robin Longstride, an archer in the army of Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), who’s murdered on his way home to England following the Third Crusade.
Also killed is a nobleman named Robert Loxley. The poor chap’s dying wish is that Longstride return the family sword to his father. You’ll never guess who his widow turns out to be. As fate — or rather, Brian Helgeland’s hodgepodge of a script — would have it, Marian (Cate Blanchett) hasn’t been a maid for 10 years and lives with her father-in-law (Max von Sydow) on his 5000-acre estate.
The old man fears his land will be confiscated by King John (Oscar Isaac), Richard’s vain, tax-happy younger brother — who’s essentially a lightweight riff on the insecure Commodus Joaquin Phoenix played with such reptilian panache in Gladiator. So von Sydow asks Crowe to move in and assume his son’s identity. This, of course, is all just an elaborate device designed to get Robin and Marian together, and much of the movie is devoted to the slo-mo blossoming of their ardor.
Which is not exactly what we come to a Ridley Scott-Russell Crowe action adventure to see, now, is it? However, until the French attack in the movie’s final moments, the arc of the pair’s relationship and a great deal of exposition concerning disgruntled barons and their gabby plans for rebellion are pretty much all that’s on the menu.
I’d like to be able to say that the climactic battle sequence is so spectacular it redeems the film, but, to be honest, it’s literally too little, too late. Scott’s done it all before, and better — the first 15 minutes of Gladiator, in which Crowe’s Maximus makes Alpo out of the barbarian tribes of Germania, are more exhilarating and imaginatively choreographed than this entire production.
The first form this project took, back in 2007, was a picture called Nottingham in which Crowe would have offered a more sympathetic take on the traditionally vilified Sheriff. Based on the first installment in the revamped series, more than a few viewers are likely to wish Scott and Co. had stuck with the plan. At the very least, it would have assured audiences a hero who’s arresting.