Rating: * * *
Verdict: Rusty Crowe and his trusty bow in good form but movie can't see Sherwood forest for the trees
In its strident efforts to be historically plausible, this latest Robin Hood may do away with many past traditions, among them the whole robbing from the rich policy of past incumbents.
But the engaging if overlong movie itself is not not afraid of stealing from all over. It might be at pains to avoid past Hood trappings but still everything from Saving Private Ryan (look medieval landing craft!) to Peter Pan (look lost boys!) is chucked into the mix and strained through director Scott's grandiose vision. Even its chief villain reminds you of another evil Joker (nasty scar you've got there Sir Godfrey!).
But the movie this most resembles is, of course, Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe's first big bash together. Instead of a Roman general turned slave, this might have Robin as footsoldier elevated to nobleman but it's still pretty much Gladi-archer, especially in its scene-setting opening reels.
There in France, Richard the Lionheart is plundering his way home from the Crusades with Robin and his would-be merry men under his command.
Only in the end, this lacks for that film's visceral power. It's given to long dull periods of political bickering. And other than a few arrow impalements it's remarkably unbloody. There might be the occasional battleaxe to the helmet but most of the violence takes place in the soundtrack. That's even when they're fighting them on the beaches during battle scenes which clearly owe a debt to another Normandy invasion.
And while Crowe's Robin Longstride makes for another engaging noble warrior, his performance can't cut quite through the clutter of supporting characters and a script which has England's most famous outlaw turning up in a 13th Century history lesson about King John and the drafting of the Magna Carta. Neither can the relationship between Robin and Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett), which develops when commoner Robin is compelled to stand in for Marian's late husband, Sir Robert Loxley or lose her Nottingham country pile to the Crown.
Crowe and Blanchett's characters are for a good match, his earthiness and her feistiness creating some sparks. But their storyline feels undeveloped and their big movie moment in the finale attempts a pay-off which hasn't had enough emotional investment.
Meanwhile the Merry blokes main duty here seems to be back-up singers when Friar Tuck's mead is flowing. Likewise, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen) barely figures - as if something is behind held back for a seemingly inevitable sequel- and the dirty work is left to the treacherous Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong). While King John's (Oscar Isaac) resemblance to the Blackadders does him no favours, especially as it brings an expectation he might be a little more fun as resident despot.
But this is a film where the serious business of rekindling a legend in a historical context is paramount.
Of course, as he's proved before with Gladiator and the crusades film Kingdom Of Heaven, Sir Ridley can mount grand pitch battles in his sleep. The ones here offer some moderate excitements, and remind swimming in chainmail is never advisable.
It's a historic epic to be admired rather than enjoyed, a film where story is stifled by history. Which in the history of Robin Hood movies makes it truly unique - it's the one that doesn't draw enough of a longbow.
Cast: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, Max Von Sydow, Matthew Macfadyen, Oscar Isaac
Director: Ridley Scott
Rating: M (violence & sexual references)
Running time: 140 mins