You can't discuss Ridley Scott's new take on Robin Hood without the F-word -- formulaic. No, the dreaded adjective isn't just for romantic comedies and teenybopper horror movies anymore; it's also for sweeping, sword-clanging historical action-epics as well. To its credit, Robin Hood has never been told with this particular formula before. To its detriment, Robin Hood is shoehorned into the formula without regard to appropriateness or creativity.
I am happy to report that Robin Hood is not Gladiator II, despite the presence of star Russell Crowe and director Scott; it's Robin Hood by way of Braveheart. He's the rallying hero of the everyman, fighting tyranny on horseback in the name of freedom, and when he's not doing that, he's making chaste advances to the widowed Maid Marion (Cate Blanchett). There's plenty of mud and blood and derring-do, plenty of guys catching arrows through the face or axes to the back, and plenty of talk about taxes and armies and the French. Huzzah.
I'm fine with the formula, even if I'm come to expect more from a director like Scott. It's a comfort food dish of medieval action; a bowl of extra-lumpy mashed potatoes that's satisfyingly familiar, if a little bland. I'm not a Robin Hood purist, and I don't mind the Batman Begins-ification of the character, watching him grow into the legendary outlaw of Sherwood Forest that everyone's familiar with. I can't fault them for trying to find a new way to bring a very old character to life, especially one that's been done over and over again on film.
I can fault them, however, for the slow-motion black and white flashbacks of Robin Hood's repressed childhood memories, the predictable plotting, and the general mis-casting of everyone aboard. Crowe and Blanchett both seem too old for their roles, but hey, they're movie stars, meaning they're completely watchable in just about anything, no matter how mis-cast. Crowe's sad sack voice percolates at a low rumble that swallows most of his own dialogue, while Blanchett tries to pick up the slack by being an extra-sassy Marion. Max Von Sydow and the actors playing Robin's eventual merry men (Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle, Mark Addy) make the most of their roles, but the bad guys, Mark Strong as the traitorous Godfrey and Oscar Isaac as the cowardly Prince John, come across like thinly-motivated comic book villains.
Godfrey is out to help the French (to what end?) and Prince John wants power without granting his people liberty (good luck with that). Standing in the middle of both men is Robin Longstride (aka Robin Hood, but not just yet), disgraced archer for Richard the Lionhearted, who fakes his way back into England after Richard's death by posing as the Nottingham soldier Robin Loxley. Robin's crusade isn't about killing Muslims in the name of England; it's fair taxation. Or something. I'm not sure what Robin's primary motivation is, besides being heroic. He rallies a broken England against French invaders, royally pissing off Prince John, and our story ends where most Robin Hood movies begin -- right at the good part.
The truth is, I'm not any more in love with the character than I was when the movie started. Robin Hood, to me, is still a vanilla crusader who's only good for a couple of hours of arrow-shooting and swashbuckling, and that's what Robin Hood, the film, delivers. Ridley Scott brings his usual keen cinematic eye and pain-staking attention to period detail to Robin Hood, bringing an uninspired script to life without a grander purpose than to just exist as a typical Summer movie. In another decade, I'm sure someone will attempt to bring the character back to the movies with an all-new spin. Let's hope they find a new formula.