Robin Hood may start with an inventive battle scene featuring all the ingenious, raw trappings of Medieval warfare—crude bombs, hot tar being poured on soldiers over a castle wall, whooshing arrows that the camera follows from bow to someone’s eye—but that’s not what makes it a worthy addition to a long list of Robin Hood movies that stretches back to Hollywood’s early years. What’s satisfying about the flick is that it mixes the action with a story that goes beyond a dude in tights taking from the rich and giving to the poor.
Consider Robin Hood a grown-up prequel to the legendary story: It traces Robin Longstride’s leap from soldier fighting in the Crusades in an effort to kick Muslims out of Jerusalem—and who’s had it with a cause he no longer believes in—to a natural leader who seeks justice from the country’s weak leadership back home. Don’t expect the usual scenes featuring Robin and his cohorts stealing jewelry or goods from rich people traveling through Sherwood Forest and doling them out to peasants. This isn’t that story. Rather, it’s the story of a man who gets redemption by following his convictions—and who becomes an outlaw for it. If that sounds like a little less fun than you’re used to for a Robin Hood summer movie, at least the film makes up for its seriousness with lovely bits of smart humor peppered across the script and gorgeous period details.
The cast is superb: As Robin, Russell Crowe, reunited with his American Gangster and Gladiator director, Ridley Scott), radiates integrity; Cate Blanchett is fierce as the independent, resourceful Marion, here a bride who was left behind by a husband who went off to war; watching the two Aussies’ brainy chemistry as they go from antagonists to lovers is one of the rewards of the film. As a blind, cash-strapped nobleman who becomes Robin’s father figure and knows better than anyone what’s really important, Max von Sydow is pretty much the soul of the film. As King John, Cuban-Guatemalan actor Oscar Isaac plays his character big, a mix of humor and menace just this side of campy—and manages to steal every scene he's in.