The very thing that makes Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood so unique is also its biggest downfall. The film chronicles the events that lead up to Robin “Longstride” actually becoming the title character, so the entire movie feels like a prequel to another movie that doesn’t yet exist. While the origin story that’s presented isn’t boring by any means, it’s still hard not to feel a little disappointed when none of the familiar events in traditional retellings are present. Constant location changes mixed with complex treachery and devious plotting don’t offer a very straightforward beginning and Robin gets his own flashback scenes to add to the labyrinthine narrative. No one really knows the truth surrounding Robin Hood’s ancestry as the legend dates back to the 15th century. So why did they choose to make him an imposter who must pretend to be the real Robin of Loxley? And since when has Friar Tuck been a beekeeper?
When King Richard (Danny Huston) is killed following the Third Crusade, his faithful aide Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge) is assigned the task of returning home with the crown. At the same time, disillusioned archer Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) departs from the King’s army with his friends Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle), and Little John (Kevin Durand). When Loxley’s band of knights is ambushed in the woods, Robin and his men don their armor to secure safe passage back to England. After witnessing the crowning of the new king, John (Oscar Isaac), Longstride travels to Nottingham to fulfill Loxley’s dying wish of returning his sword to his father Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow). Once there, Robin encounters Loxley’s beautiful wife Marion (Cate Blanchett), and at the request of Sir Walter, agrees to assume his son’s identity in order to restore peace and prevent the loss of their lands. But just as Robin settles into his newfound home, a threat to all of England arises that will force him to unite a land and wage a massive war for survival.
Outlaws and unmixed anti-heroes always make for interesting characters, careful to toy with the audiences’ passion for playing on the outskirts of law enforcement while still delivering justice. Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood is molded like an outlaw, yet the entire story merely leads up to the point in which he actually becomes one. It isn’t until the end of the film that he even resides in the forest. This different angle to the legendary bandit is a singular idea, but one that Robin Hood fans might not appreciate. There are no archery contests or plots to save the lady Marion, although there are many familiar friends and enemies, including Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Little John (all sharing a familiarly welcome camaraderie), and the Sheriff of Nottingham (before he became the main antagonist), all with their traditional stories blended into origin theories that twist around what many have come to accept as Robin Hood’s life. The new villains take the shape of Godfrey (Mark Strong) and the French army, rivals Robin Hood has never before encountered. It’s refreshing to see a completely new version, but it’s also a letdown for anyone hoping to see what Ridley Scott could do with the most common, straightforward Robin Hood plot.
The locations change so rapidly that it’s difficult to keep track of the various forested settings, but Scott still knows how to stage a battle scene. Intense, gritty, violent and thrilling, this film will have difficulty avoiding comparisons to the director’s previous historical epics Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven. In this more serious take, Robin adopts the motto “Rise and rise again until lambs become lions,” he’s a bit older than most viewers would expect, the romance and action are evenly split across a two-hour-and-twenty-minute timeframe, and every character is identifiable by some conspicuously grotesque scar. While history is being rewritten, at least there are arrows whizzing everywhere, assaulting eyes, necks, chests and every appendage, some engulfed in flames and others drenched in slow motion.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)