Friday, May 14, 2010

Gritty "Robin Hood" entertaining but humorless

Robin Hood (2010) 
140 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: B -

The last time we saw Robin Hood and his league of merrie men was in Mel Brook's spoof when they were in tight green tunics, so it left room for the old tale to be retold. Ridley Scott's decidedly more-realistic take on Erroll Flynn's oft-told Sherwood Forest knight is more of a “Robin Pre-Hood: The Younger Years,” like an origin primer for the hero's just-beginning adventures. Now, you won't see this Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, but let's say what this one is rather than what it isn't. 

The Hood is now named Robin Longstride, played with glower by Scott's Gladiator muse Russell Crowe, who has a lot on his plate, including memories of witnessing his father's murder. The time is at the turn of the 12th century in England. After King Richard and Sir Robin Loxley are both slain after returning to England from the Crusades, Longstride must deliver the Lion Heart's crown to his mother and younger royal brother. Richard's brother, John (Oscar Isaac), becomes the king by default, with an English enemy in their midst: Philip of France (Mark Strong) and his soldiers. Our bow-and-arrow hero must also be the messenger of bad news in Nottingham to Loxley's blind father, Walter (a touching Max von Sydow), and his now-widowed wife, Marion (Cate Blanchett). By turn, Robin Longstride gets Loxley's sword and becomes the return son and Marion's husband. 

Though not the most memorable version (can't forget the 1991-Kevin Costner "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves"), Scott does a solidly entertaining job with this “re-imagined” Robin Hood, moving well and having a grand scope. It is too humorless and dour, despite some low-key comic relief from Robin's men (Little John, etc.) and Friar Tuck and banter between he and Marion. Crowe is ever stolid but well-cast as this heroic nobleman and Blanchett is a feistier Marion; no damsel-in-distress here. But her and Crowe share little heat in their romance. Strong has become typecast as the Snidley Whiplash of Bad Guys in the last months ("Sherlock Holmes," "Kick-Ass," and now this), and he's just as creepy here. 

The storyelling is choppy at first with a lot of meanwhile but takes shape as it goes, and the battle sequences are rousing in slick, sliced-and-diced Ridley Scott fashion and rendered pretty coherently, even by Scott standards. Even if it's less romantic or merry than the Robin Hoods of yesteryear, this rough, tough, and gritty "Robin Hood" is more suited for our times of brooding heroes with daddy issues.

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