If it were possible to combine “Gladiator” and “Braveheart” into a single film and then surgically extract virtually everything that made those Best Picture winners pure movie magic, what you’d wind up with would be a lifeless, longwinded, anti-epic very much along the lines of Ridley Scott’s latest. Talk about missing the mark.
The second of the summer movie season’s major releases suffers from precisely the opposite of the problem afflicting the first. Where “Iron Man 2” was overloaded with bad guys and just generally too busy, “Robin Hood” is an almost two and a half hour snore in which almost nothing blockbustery happens until the closing credits are just about ready to roll.
Oh and minor detail: This isn’t the movie the TV ads and trailer promise. Based on those, a ticket buyer would have every reason to anticipate a gritty, CGI-enhanced retelling of the classic story. You know: roguish folk hero stays a step ahead of the Sheriff of Nottingham, steals from the rich, gives to the poor, woos Maid Marion, buckles his swash with the Merry Men in Sherwood Forest and performs mind blowing feats with a bow and arrow.
You can forget about most of that. Scott has big franchise plans and evidently decided the fun can wait until we get the origin story out of the way. So what we sit through is a long, convoluted, almost never merry set up in which Russell Crowe plays Robin Longstride, an archer in the army of Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) who’s murdered on his way home to England following the Third Crusade.
Also killed is a nobleman named Robert Loxley. The poor chap’s dying wish is that Longstride return the family sword to his father. You’ll never guess who his widow turns out to be. As fate-or rather Brian Helgeland’s hodgepodgey script-would have it, Marion (Cate Blanchett) hasn’t been a maid for ten years and lives with her father-in-law (Max von Sydow) on his 5,000 acre estate.
The old man fears his land will be confiscated by King John (Oscar Isaac), Richard’s vain, tax-happy younger brother (essentially a lightweight riff on the insecure Commodus Joaquin Phoenix played with such reptilian panache in “Gladiator”) and so asks Crowe to move in and assume his son’s identity. This, of course, is all just an elaborate device designed to get Robin and Marion together and much of the movie is devoted to the slo-mo blossoming of their ardor.
Which is not exactly what we come to a Ridley Scott-Russell Crowe action adventure to see now is it? However, until the French attack in the movie’s final moments, the arc of their relationship and a great deal of exposition concerning disgruntled barons and their gabby plans for rebellion are pretty much all that’s on the menu.
I’d like to be able to say that the climactic battle sequence is so spectacular that it redeems the film but, to be honest, it’s literally too little too late. Scott’s done it all before and better-the first fifteen minutes of “Gladiator,” in which Crowe’s Maximus makes Alpo out of the barbarian tribes of Germania, are more exhilarating and imaginatively choreographed than this entire production.
The original idea back in 2007 was for a picture called “Nottingham” in which Crowe would offer a more sympathetic take on the traditionally vilified Sheriff. Based on the first installment in the revamped series, more than a few viewers are likely to wish Scott and Co. had stuck with the plan. At the very least, it would have assured audiences a hero who’s arresting.