Ridley Scott’s fifth collaboration with Russell Crowe – a new take on the Robin Hood legend – is a project that has, at least in part, shaken off the shackles of its rumoured script problems to provide an experience that remains entertaining despite some rigidly formulaic filmmaking.
In part, the film is an amalgamation of previous Robin Hood stories, though it does also strive to take the legend in a new direction. The Sherriff of Nottingham (a barely recognisable Matthew Macfadyen), for example, is almost entirely sidelined in favour of Mark Strong and Oscar Isaac’s combination of villains, both of which are effective, if a little generic. The story revolves around a conspiracy to weaken English defences from the inside whilst allowing the French to invade, all of which takes place within what is essentially an origin story. The advertising campaign stressed that this would be ‘the untold story’ behind the Robin Hood legend, and to an extent the script does provide a worthy relevance to the events on display, with the inclusion of the forest charter (a supplement to Magna Carta) giving Robin’s actions a much needed moral foundation.
Everything about the film reflects a technical adeptness that, whilst satisfying on one level, also feels unfortunately stale. Scott’s direction is impressive but also workmanlike, as though he could have directed this in his sleep, and Crowe’s performance – whilst perfectly fine, despite a slightly unstable accent – rarely stretches him. The script is snappy and includes some amusing one-liners, but the overall sense is that we’ve seen a lot of this done better before, even by the same director-actor combination, in Gladiator. The action scenes, meanwhile, are passable: you’d be hard pressed to fall asleep, but there isn’t anything mind blowing in here.
The film does succeed in its most basic intention: to tell the story of Robin Hood in a new context. It would be unfair to criticise the film too much, because in the end it’s a new version of an old story, and despite its formulaic nature, it does tell that story well. It’s just a shame that all the elements that are good here are simply that: good, but not great, and as such so is the film.