Rated: PG-13. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes. 3 stars.
No way were they going to put Russell Crowe in green tights.
Now that we've got that out of the way, rest assured that's not the only liberty Ridley Scott and his band of merry men took with their reimagining of the legend of Robin Hood. They've swapped the pointy feathered hats and felts with chain mail, metal-militia adrenaline and sly sexual innuendo. And frankly, it works.
It is with the same gusto with which he created "Gladiator" that Scott retells the English myth. Everything feels more epic than the quaint-by-comparison swashbuckling Hood of Errol Flynn's era.
This "Robin Hood" follows the evolution of the titular character from king's army archer to vigilante scourge of Sherwood Forest. The plot is immediately plunked into the throes of war, as Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) and his warriors sack French strongholds. Robin Longstride, as he is originally known, proves his mettle with his bow, but puts his foot in his mouth when he admits to his highness that God won't take kindly to the Crusades. Sent to the stocks, he fraternizes with Little John (Kevin Durand), Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes) and Allan A'Dayle (Alan Doyle), and they make a break for it once the battle goes awry.
From here, the story becomes needlessly hard to follow, with subplots flying as wildly as novice's arrows. Robin and Co. oversee an ambush, where Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge) is slain, so they vow to return his ornately decorated sword to his father back in Nottingham. Meanwhile, England's randy, bratty Prince John (Oscar Isaac) copes with inadequacy issues by bedding a French royal (Lea Seydoux) and squabbling with the Queen Mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eileen Atkins). The prince's associate Godfrey (Mark Strong) plays both sides of the British/Norman dispute. And the historically reviled Sheriff of Nottingham? He's but a mere afterthought in this busy adaptation. (Even actor Matthew Macfadyen looks distraught over his diminished role.)
Most of the story is grounded in Nottingham, however, as Robin makes good on his word and brings back Sir Robert's weapon to Papa Loxley (Max von Sydow), a blind spitfire of a man. He urges his newly widowed daughter-in-law, Maid Marion (Cate Blanchett), to present Robin as her fallen husband, so as not to upset the simpletons in town. She protests, Crowe employs his best swarthy-guy seduction tactics, and inevitably, a spark ignites. All this while Godfrey goes rogue and lays siege to the common folk.
Whether it was the intention of writers Brian Helgeland, Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris to evoke a "Lord of the Rings" vibe is unknown, but for a hero typically known for donning shapely jade fashion, the makeover is beneficial. It's not just arrows Robin and his mates are slinging; they're outfitted with hammers and brute strength. Durand is especially game as the self-proclaimed "proportionate" giant Little John, hoisting lesser men over his shoulders and bringing a genuine merriment to a sometimes-dark film. And there's much to be applauded for Blanchett's Eowyn-esque Marion, now framed as a commander in her own right.
Outside of some blatant "it's cool to hate the French again!" follies, Scott's "Robin Hood" is a resilient, timely take on a familiar tome.