Marking his fifth film with Russell Crowe, Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood seems determined to conjure up the magic of their first collaboration, Gladiator. After all, both are historical dramas featuring a hero facing insurmountable odds. Yet try as it might, never quite musters up the sheer epic power of its predecessor, just as Crowe – despite sporting a haircut that seems styled in tribute to his Roman slayer Maxiumus – feels rather muted in comparison. Still, with Scott going for a gritty take on the legend of the outlaw who robbed the rich to give to the poor, at least Crowe lends the character a level of credability Kevin Costner never attained in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Scripted by Brian Helgeland – no stranger to this era, having written and directed A Knight’s Tale – the film begins in the late 13th century with Crowe’s lowly archer Robin Longstride fighting in the Crusades for King Richard (Danny Huston). After meeting a dying envoy for the king, who himself has just been slain, Robin spies his safe passage back to England – adopt the man’s identity and deliver the news to the court that Prince John (Oscar Isaac) must be now crowned. Arriving home to find a nation divided, he heads to Nottingham to complete his mission – and soon finds himself falling for Lady Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett), the wife of the man whose identity he stole.
While this romance feels gratuitous at best, it’s not the film’s most diappointing element. Matthew Macfadyen’s Sheriff of Nottingham is woefully underused, and certainly not a patch on Alan ‘Cancel Christmas’ Rickman in Prince of Thieves. Indeed, with Mark Strong the de facto villain as the treachourous courtier Godfrey, a little of Rickman’s dry humour wouldn’t have gone amiss in what is a rather po-faced adventure story. There are some strong actors on show, not least William Hurt and Max von Sydow, who plays Marion’s father. Scott also handles it all proficiently enough, particularly the final beach-set battle as Robin helps repel the invading French. But all this tangling with the myth of the man never really sets the screen alight.
General release from Wed 12 May.