The story begins with Robin, played by a squinting, brooding Russell Crowe, as an archer in King Richard the Lionheart’s (Danny Huston) army of Crusaders. Arrows fly, swords clash and a castle is sacked, but not before Richard meets his end. Returning to England, Robin follows through on his promise to a dying knight, Sir Robert Loxley, and points his horse toward Nottingham to deliver the dead man’s sword to his father.
Robin arrives with a few of his ruffians in tow (including Little John, played by Kevin Durand). The Merry Men enjoy ladles of Friar Tuck’s mead, the attention of fair maidens and few lines of any discerning character. Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow) convinces the weary archer to assume his dead son’s identity in order to prevent his widowed daughter-in-law, Marian (Cate Blanchett), from losing the family’s land. With seemingly nothing better to do, Robin agrees.
Meanwhile, the newly crowned Prince John (Oscar Isaac) is eager to put his stamp on the throne. His predecessor’s penchant for war has left the coffers bare, or at least not as overflowing as the spoiled prince would prefer. On the advice of his consigliere, the shiny-domed, double-crossing Godfrey (Mark Strong), Prince John orders the collection of more taxes from his downtrodden subjects. Godfrey’s plan is to turn England’s barons against each other amidst the uproar, sufficiently weakening the country so that King Philip of France can invade and conquer.
Mr. Scott is one of the best at directing massive action sequences, and the opening and closing battles are engrossing, even despite the obvious nods to “Braveheart” and “Saving Private Ryan.” Between the bookends of carnage, however, “Robin Hood” fails to build any momentum. Mr. Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland attempt to color Robin in nobility. There’s a bit about his dead father’s having been a champion of the commoner’s right to liberty (and the architect of a Magna Carta-like document), but it is too convoluted to achieve much effect. The plot devices – a royal double-crossing, an insecure king who wields a big stick – are about as well-worn as medieval underwear. And yet amidst all this familiarity, Mr. Scott is never able to plausibly connect Robin Hood to the broader politics. Not helping matters is Mr. Crowe’s one-note performance, which would barely inspire men to get out of their hay beds much less follow him into battle.
“Robin Hood” has all the components for a fine medieval tale – the chicanery, the swords and arrows and horses, a romance with a fair maiden. Even an angry mob bellows the requisite phrase, “insolent wretch!” What it lacks, however, is a reason to care.
Rated PG-13 for violence.