The summer blockbusters are beginning to line up like Mauer, Morneau, and Cuddyer. Last week “Iron Man 2” hit one out of the park, and “Prince of Persia” is lurking in the dugout. This past weekend “Robin Hood,” starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett and directed by Ridley Scott, strode to the plate. At nearly two and one-half hours long, it rivals a fairly brisk major league game for commitment of your time, but on the whole it’s worth the effort.
Rather than reprise the familiar story, Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland have devised a “prequel,” explaining how Robin and the Merry Men got that way. If there’s significantly less running around in tights and shooting at the nasty Sheriff of Nottingham, there’s still plenty of action, including the storming of a French castle and the repelling of a subsequent invasion by the sneaky Frogs. These battle scenes stretch the film unnecessarily, for my money, but hey! it’s blockbuster time and that big budget has to be justified.
Personally, I’d like to have seen more interaction between Crowe and Blanchett. The plot supplies the backstory for their famous love affair. Marion, it seems, was married for one week to nobleman Robert Loxley before he followed Richard the Lion-Hearted on the Crusades. When he dies in a French ambush, he charges archer Robin Longstride (Crowe) to return his sword to his blind and aging father, Sir Walter, played by Max von Sydow, marvelously alive and kicking, all these years after he donned the chain mail for Ingmar Bergman in “The Seventh Seal.”
In the course of that mission, Robin allies with some fellow commoners and Crusaders: Little John (Kevin Durand), Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes) and Allan A’Dale (Allan Doyle). These three supply most of the roistering, with a beekeeping Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) supplying the mead as fuel. Add Mark Strong as the duplicitous Godfrey and William Hurt as the righteous William Marshall and you’ve got a pretty solid supporting cast. I could have done with a little more strength in the roles of the Sheriff and Prince John, whom Mathew Macfadyen and Oscar Isaac make into a pair of layabouts. (At the sight of the invading force, John cries, “That’s a lot of French!”) But in this setting, they are rather more minor characters than those faced by Errol Flynn, Sean Connery, and other Robins.
Blanchett, however, lends considerable weight to the role of Marion—here a Lady, not a Maid—who is something of a proto-feminist at the turn of the 12th century. Blanchett/Marion is all repressed emotion and sharp wit, running circles around the hunky but somewhat mumbly Crowe/Robin. And she wields a pretty mean broadsword, even putting on some armor when the occasion calls for it.
Scott has produced plenty of spectacle, achieving the feel of the times, if not exactly hewing to historical accuracy in either the politics or the language of the era, both of which smack of nearly a millennium later. But this is a movie about a fictional character, after all, so we can forgive some license. “Robin Hood” is properly rated “PG-13,” primarily for violence, though it’s not much more graphic than your average video game.