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Does Robin Hood with Russell Crowe hit the bullseye or miss the mark?

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Russel Crowe as Robin Hood?! Yes, an inexperienced archer, but there’s so much potential.Robin Hood, starring Russel Crowe.

Initially, nothing about the new Robin Hood  seemed enticing or exciting. The trailer was flat, the story feels stale, and the way upon which the film was being pitched resembled Gladiator redux  more than re-interpretation of classic material. However, under the care and incredibly detailed direction of Ridley Scott, along with some fine performances, this update manages to be a flawed but grandiose open to the summer season.

The new picture actually plays more like a prequel, or the set up to a new franchise, which is actually a more refreshing take in the end. The film opens with a few footnotes regarding the history of the era. King Richard is killed in battle, and thus begins a drastic turn of events. A group of his soldiers, helmed by one Robin Longside (Crowe), set out to return the regal crown back to the king’s castle. Upon arriving, Robin is greeted by Richard’s brother John (Oscar Isaac), an immature, hot headed prince who by default earns the crown. Once John is crowned, it doesn’t take long for him to fly off the rails. Caught up in a hunger for greed, he imposes a new tax on the poor that would demand even more money from them, despite the fact that the people of the land are going hungry as is. For this task, he enlists the vicious Godfrey (Mark Strong), sent out among the villages to collect the taxes and punish those who oppose them. However, unbeknownst to John, Godfrey is actually in bed with the French and they secretly plan to cripple a country already at war with itself.

So where does the legend of Robin Hood fit into all of this? Well in this case, Robin is more of a supporting player, a subtle heroic presence if there ever was one. He is introduced as one of King Richard’s soldiers in the beginning of the film, and then progresses to the village of Nottingham to deliver the sword of a fallen warrior Robert Loxley. There, he is brought in by that man’s father, Walter Loxley, and his strong willed assertive widow, Marion (Cate Blanchett). Together, the village and king’s man team up against the Tyranny of Godfrey, aiming to invade the land.

Robin Hood  is more than just pure popcorn entertainment. This is a gorgeously filmed epic that has been created with care and thought. As mentioned, Director Scott’s eye for detail and scope is stunning, and both of those qualities permeate the film. The director has more trouble holding on to a consistent flow in action, but his strengths are in top form here. The script manages to draw from some of the legendary story while certainly standing on it’s on merits. All of the characters are set up in an interesting way, though some of them feel short changed in characterization department. Crowe doesn’t exactly magnetize the screen as Robin Longfellow and lacks distinction and conviction. It should be noted, however, that this film aims to examine the origins of the outlaw, so perhaps the character’s transformation is meant to be more subtle and deliberate. Blanchett, as usual, is in top form as Marion, playing the tough skinned heroine with charm and gusto. The merry men are all reasonably engaging as well.

The problem with Robin Hood  is that it works just fine as a prequel, but not as a stand alone film. The way in which Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland stage the movie as a springboard for a new franchise is fine, but the whole thing is overlong and lacks a sense of overall connection and investment with the audience. By the time the grand final battle arrives, the stakes are higher, the tension is elevated, but the whole thing is over just as this film was kicking into gear.

Nonetheless, in the end, Robin Hood  is far better than anyone could have anticipated. The cinematography is stunning, the direction is top notch, and the potential for the inevitable sequel is great. This is one of those films that will serve as a gateway for spectacular things to come should Scott and Crowe stay involved the next time around.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com