Robin Hood (**1/2)

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Robin Hood.  148 mins.  PG-13.  Directed by Ridley Scott.  Written by Brian Helgeland.  Starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, Mark Addy, William Hurt, Max Von Sydow, and Danny Houston.

 The latest version of Robin Hood is an odd duck.  On one hand, you have to congratulate the filmmakers for fighting the urge to give audiences yet another telling of the same Robin Hood tale that everyone knows and has seen countless number of times.  This Robin Hood tracks the character of Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) as he returns home from the Crusades and deals with an overbearing government and burgeoning relationship with Maid Marian (Cate Blanchett). 

A pseudo-prequel in nature, Crowe's character is not yet the "Robin Hood" that audiences are familiar with - he isn't the outlaw who famously steals from the rich and gives to the poor yet.  But for all its good intentions, the story told here is not all that engrossing.  A huge chunk of the movie is a total bore.  Not bad per se, just boring.  The movie starts to pick up steam in the last act, only to end at exactly the point that you want to start watching.  I know I've seen it all before, but the legend of Robin Hood is a damn good story that stands the test of time.  I would have loved to see Crowe and Scott take on THAT story.  Instead, after what amounts to 2.5 hours of essentially waiting around, the movie ends with a title card that reads something like, "And so the legend grew..."  Are you kidding?  That's the best part!

Ridley Scott remains an expert visualist, but he seems to have lost his sense of pacing and delivery of the "goods."  Universal is quick to point out that Robin Hood comes "From the director of Gladiator", but don't go in expecting Gladiator 2Robin Hood does not even come close to Gladiator's near-perfect mix of action, historical epic, and revenge drama.  The music is not as memorable, and the villains are nowhere near as deliciously captivating as Joaquin Phoenix's Commodus. It may not be entirely fair to compare the two, but the studio is practically forcing the comparison.

Side note: It's been 10 years since Gladiator, and in the decade since, I don't think that Crowe and Scott have done each other any favors continuing to work together.  After A Good Year, American Gangster, Body of Lies, and now this, it might be time for the two to move on.

From a technical standpoint though, Robin Hood is often impressive.  The period costumes are rich and detailed, the cinematography and production design are appropriately grimy and authentic, and the performances are all solid.  You'd expect that from any movie with Crowe and Blanchett - the two are just incapable of phoning it in.  I'm starting to get tired of seeing Mark Strong as the main baddie though - he's paid his dues in that regard (Sherlock Holmes, Kick-Ass).

Despite its occasional merits, Robin Hood ends up being exactly what its previews suggest: a chore of a summer blockbuster - one you think you want to see (again, "from the director of Gladiator") - but are easily bored with when you do.  I bet it plays better on a small screen, when you can break it up and watch it in chunks, and not be too tied down by the considerable running time.

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