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Robin Hood

Maybe Robin Hood has been told and retold to death. Elements of it are so familiar that I find myself remembering a fox and/or Daffy Duck performing his derring-do instead of any human actor. In essence, Director Ridley Scott and Writer Brian Helgeland want to bring something new to the table by giving us the prequel - asking what happened before everything we know, and trying to root Robin Hood's legend in an actual historical time period instead of a fanciful version of an England that never really existed.

Despite their best intentions, Robin Hood fails to breathe new life into either legend or franchise. Helgeland borrows liberally from his earlier success, A Knight's Tale, pasting an almost identical backstory onto Robin Longstride nee Sir Robert Loxley (Russell Crowe) from Heath Ledger's William Thatcher.

Crowe, however, is no Ledger on the cusp of stardom and charisma. The veteran Australian actor clearly has something compelling about him, but it's dark and brooding. This Robin Hood - though he never really gets called that here - seems more a thug than a roguish outlaw.

When interacting with his companions from the Crusades, he has moments of lightness. In a moment or two with Lady Marian (Cate Blanchett), he has a bit of a softness to him. But those moments serve as excuses for character development rather than really earning it; when Marian declares her love, we've seen little real reason for it other than once he was nice.

At least they let Robin Hood remain an expert bowman. We see how his specialty would have been used in the days of the Crusades as King Richard (Danny Huston) and his men pillage their way back to England. With Scott directing, the screen fills with painstaking historical detail, blood, sweat and grime oozing through the battle scenes. It also serves as a symbol of the moral cancer eating away at these men, serving in a Holy War and realizing there's nothing holy about it.

However, that's a modern perspective forced into the past. It will serve to provoke the orphaned Longstride into developing a philosophy wanting men to be free, echoing his near forgotten father and foreshadowing the Magna Carta.

And so Helgeland and Scott want to have it both ways. They present a Prince John (Oscar Isaac) who seems genuinely conflicted but morally lax, complex and willing to listen to reason until it's inconvenient to the story for him to do so. While the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew McFadyen) shows up and is clearly the comedic menace of the legend, he's barely more than a cameo and a tease of the fun the movie might have been.

Though the concerns over unfair taxes do bubble under the surface of Robin Hood, this script ends up being more about political intrigue as the French King Phillip plots with the nefarious Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong) to embroil England in a Civil War so the French can just invade and knock over the divided forces. It's both simplistic and headsplittingly complicated. And unfortunately, Strong gives almost exactly the same performance as he did in Sherlock Holmes, only now with facial scarring.

At least King Phillip eats oysters instead of cheese. That gives things a little more complexity.

With the center being so uninvolving, it's a shame that so many good pieces keep showing up and getting shoved to the side. Though never called the Merry Men, Robin's companions hold the screen whenever they're on it. Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes) and Little John (Kevin Durand), in particular, keep bringing an enthusiasm to their scenes that speed up the action, with Mark Addy's beekeeping Friar Tuck struggling to add a glimmer of mischievous fun that the main story completely lacks.

Then Max Von Sydow gives the whole thing weight as Loxley's blind father, begging Longstride to keep up his ruse. There's humor, there's gravity, and there's proof that old actors do their damnedest to not go gently into that good night, as his confrontation with Sir Godfrey may be one of the most exciting scenes in the movie. When von Sydow raises his sword, you wonder if he'd warmed up by clashing with Peter O'Toole to get the role.

It all plods toward an epic battle that would have been impressive if it hadn't been done in Kingdom of Heaven. Never have so many fought so fiercely to so little interesting result.

The legend may have it coming, but what "it" is should be a romp through a Sherwood Forest bright and verdant, fun and full of potential adventure. Robin Hood hints that it could have gone there quite handily, but decided that this still pond just outside the forest would be just as interesting, promise, really, if you'd only give it a chance.

All things considered, I'd rather feel welcome to Sherwood.


Derek McCaw

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