GENRE: Murky historical action epic
THE PITCH: Cynical archer Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) impersonates stalwart knight Sir Robert Locksley and ends up defending the people of Nottingham against French invaders, double-dealing English agitator Godfrey (Mark Strong) and onerous taxation.
MONEY SHOTS: Robin and the returning English Crusaders have fun storming a castle in France. Director Ridley Scott makes a punchline of an image of Robin and his not-so-merry men in King Richard’s stocks. French soldiers rise spookily in the English woods and, later, French troop transports emerge from the foggy Channel. Lavish shots reveal a French army amassing on the shore and the English cavalry rides to the cliffs of Dover above. The closing credits feature cool, watercolor-style animation.
BEST LINE: “Well played!” the Merry Men declare when they learn Robin gets to play husband to Nottingham’s pretty Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett).
WEAKEST RALLY-THE-TROOPS LINE: “Every Englishman’s home is his castle,” Robin tells a gathering of English soldiers, in a pale shadow of Crowe’s pre-battle pep talks from Gladiator and Master and Commander.
WEAKEST ROBIN HOOD FOOTNOTE: “The more the merrier,” Robin remarks when Little John (“Lost” bad guy Kevin Durand) asks to join his group. Along similar lines, Godfrey ids Nottingham on a map and ominously says he’ll make the place famous.
BODY COUNT: Oh, upwards of a hundred (including one regicide) but most of the deaths take place off-camera or behind big fireballs. Swords pierce chests and arrows lodge in necks. Robin specializes in shooting arrows at bad guys running away (some hero!), but at the end, charges into battle wielding what looks like a claw hammer.
FASHION STATEMENTS: No tights to speak of, but Robin’s hoodie wins him the nickname “Robin of the Hood.” Prince John (Oscar Isaac) and his French consort (Léa Seydoux) don cloaks that look like wall tapestries. At one point, Robin sprawls on Marion’s floor wearing a classic wife-beater tank. Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) has one of those Three Stooges tonsures.
FLESH FACTOR: Prince John stands up in bed to offer the audience a partial buffalo shot. Marion helps Robin remove his chainmail so Crowe can prove he lost his Body of Lies weight. The merry men appear shirtless and various village wenches show cleavage. Perhaps the sexiest moment is when Robin notices Marion washing her bare feet.
OTHER REFERENCES: The French Invasion of Dover looks like like 12th-century version of the Omaha Beach scene from Saving Private Ryan. The line “None shall pass!” evokes Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which everyone in the theater is probably thinking. Robin’s decision to switch places with a better-connected casualty of war makes him seem like “Mad Men’s” Don Draper.
RANKING ROBINS: Crowe lacks the embarrassing non-accent of Kevin Costner, but doesn’t swashbuckle that much. At 45 years old, he’s the oldest actor to play the character (although 44-year-old Sean Connery seemed older in Robin and Marian). The best big screen Robins remain Erroll Flynn and Daffy Duck. Yoicks and away!
THE BOTTOM LINE: Scott’s attempt at a Robin Hood Begins story becomes ensnared in convoluted history lessons that incorporate the Crusades, nasty King John and the Magna Carta, leaving the title character (and Crowe’s acting) surprisingly passive. Blanchett’s poised, earthy performance as Lady Marion and the final battle hit bullseyes, but amid the weak dialogue and blur of background characters, Robin Hood whiffs its other targets.
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