Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood plays like Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins; telling us the back story of a noble vigilante we may not have known before leading up to a sequel-friendly ending. It doesn’t have the character of Nolan’s work, nor does it have the epic nature of Scott’s own Gladiator, but what’s here is a respectable, solid piece of work with just enough meat on the bone to satisfy.
Crowe is the weakest element; we never see him reach the giddy heights of Maximus at his most scenery-chewing, and where Gladiator had the chilling “I shall have my revenge, in this life or the next” line, in Robin Hood we get “An Englishman’s home is his castle!”, shortly before he nails three ducks to the wall and puts up a sign reading ‘Dunroamin’ I suppose. I wasn’t expecting a tight-wearing Errol Flynn interpretation of the character but Crowe is all growl and no charm. The romance between Crowe and Cate Blanchett’s Marion Loxely never rings true and seems to go from outright hostility to doe-eyed sop in the space of an afternoon. Admittedly though it’s done under the orders of Max Von Sydow, and if Max Von Sydow ordered me to fall in love with Russell Crowe I’d at least give it a shot. You don’t fuck with Ming the Merciless.
As Maximus, Crowe commanded men to unleash hell; as Robin Hood, it’s a mystery why anybody hangs around with him at all. Crowe’s wandering accent is all the more hilarious when you know how offended he gets by criticism of it, and yes, there’s definitely some Irish in there at times, along with every other regional voice he could find.
But, Crowe aside, there’s a good cast here giving decent performances. Mark Strong is fast becoming the rent-a-villain of the moment but he plays it well, just as William Hurt continues to carve out his niche as a rent-a-gravitas supporting actor. Oscar Isaac is an entry-level Joaquin Phoenix but at least provides a touch of menace and humour here and there and the merry men all seem dependable enough though — as is often the case — Friar Tuck is the only one who seems to have a real personality, and he even gives us a 12th century version of Chekov’s Gun, in the form of a couple of beehives.
Action-wise, it’s all enjoyable enough if you can ignore anachronisims like wooden landing craft modelled on WWII vehicles. Scott’s direction may be pedestrian for the most part these days but he does give good action, and the climactic battle between the French and the English at Dover was as solid and brutal as you would hope for (Robin actually goes into battle armed with a hammer. A hammer!).
It’s not perfect. The last minute arrival of Marion with her coterie of pubescent poachers on ponies is mystifying; not only is the helmet reveal utterly expected, having been seen now in every medieval film ever, the idea that these scrawny rejects from Lord of the Flies would be any use against a battle-hardened army — even a French one — is laughable, and as it turns out they don’t really do much in the end beyond show up. Possibly the long ride from Nottingham to Dover (about 72 hours on foot today, so I imagine a touch longer during the 12th century when you had to deal with, I don’t know, rickets or whatever) tired them out a bit, but either way, they’re a needless distraction here as they are throughout the rest of the film.
Overall, Robin Hood is decent enough, so long as you don’t look too closely.