Let’s get this out of the way first: this movie is NOT the classic Robin Hood legend you are familiar with. This is a prequel to that legend. However, do not let this dissuade you from seeing Ridley Scott’s excellent telling of the Robin Hood story. I went into this movie with some trepidation due to the critical bashing this movie has received. After seeing it, those critics can eat a bowl of cold shit, especially considering the fact that most of them preferred a film like Iron Man 2 over Robin Hood. Now before I launch further into this review, I will say that Robin Hood is also not the action-packed summer popcorn film that Universal’s marketing team is leading the public to believe. Its a 2 hour and 20 minute drama that I believe should have been released in the fall or winter rather than the summer. With that said, the film contains a number of action sequences which, especially the final one, show how few directors can stage action with the level of excitement and epicness that Ridley Scott can (NOTE: Compare the action in this movie with the stale, boring action in Iron Man 2 and see what a huge comparison there is between the two movies).

Robin Hood tells the story of Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe), an archer who has just returned from the Crusades with King Richard the Lionhearted of England. King Richard has a younger, arrogant brother (Oscar Isaac), King John, who would like nothing more than to get rid of his brother and take the throne of England. In the meantime, the king of France has hired an Englishman, Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong) to kill King Richard before he returns to his throne, which will pave the way for France to invade England and take over the country. Godfrey is successful in killing King Richard and as a result, King John takes over England’s throne. In the meantime, Robin Longstride has promised a slain knight to return his sword to his father, who lives in Nottingham. Robin does so, traveling to Nottingham and delivering the sword to the father (Max von Sydow) and meeting the father’s daughter, Marian (Cate Blanchett). Robin and Marian develop a relationship and, to cut this synopsis short, Robin teams up with King John and other English noblemen to ward off the invading French.

You will have to pay close attention to the plot of the movie because there is a lot going on and there are a lot of major characters with interweaving storylines. I was not expecting the story to be this intricate considering past movie versions of Robin Hood. Then again, this is not the Robin Hood storyline so you shouldn’t be expecting that story anyway. This film reminded me of another excellent Cate Blanchett film, Elizabeth. Like that film, Robin Hood contains a lot of political and historical drama involving intrigue, deception, and shifting alliances. The plot is firmly roots Robin Hood in English medieval history and its something I really enjoy because if and when Ridley Scott tells the famous tale of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, the character will have a rich backstory and a historical backdrop for his struggle against King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Now some issue has been taken by critics of the historical inaccuracies of the movie. I’ll admit that I don’t have an extensive knowledge of English history, but I don’t think most Americans do either so I doubt most audiences will notice nor care about any creative liberty the filmmakers took with the history. Besides, its Robin Hood we’re talkin’ here. He’s more legend than history and if there’s anything that audiences will notice, its the messing with the legend, not the historical background.

Ridley Scott has always had a knack for casting wonderful, previously unseen actors in his movies. After all, had it not been for Alien, who knows where Sigourney Weaver’s career would have been. Here, we already have the perfect matching of Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. Crowe has now starred in Ridley Scott’s last 4 films in a row. He was also in Scott’s Oscar-winning Gladiator, a film that Robin Hood is being most compared to. Crowe fills the role of Robin Hood splendidly and, arguably, he may be the best Robin Hood yet (yes, even better than Sean Connery, Errol Flynn, and Disney’s animated fox and a HELL of a lot better than Kevin Costner’s non-English accented version). Blanchett is equally wonderful as Marian and again, she may be the best Marian we have yet seen on the silver screen. Unlike past versions of Marian, this one doesn’t wait for Robin to come and save her. She has killer instinct and she doesn’t take any shit from anyone. Together, Crowe and Blanchett have perfect chemistry and you completely believe their relationship. Much of the film’s success depends on the audience buying into their relationship and Ridley Scott pulls this off nicely.

As for the rest of the cast, this is the 2nd film this year (the first was his creepy and cool role in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island) I have seen Max von Sydow in and he’s quickly becoming the best actor for 2010. Here he plays Marian’s blind father and age has certainly not slowed this actor down. He steals every scene he is in and there is a beautiful scene between he and Russell Crowe that develops a father-son bond between the two. Oscar Isaac as the arrogant, asshole King John is a scene-stealer and he helps make this movie into the large success that it is. Not coincidentally, King John reminded me of Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus in Gladiator. I loved every scene with King John and I couldn’t get enough of this character. Mark Strong is yet another great actor here, playing the villainous Lord Godfrey. Strong has been quite impressive over the past couple of years, with strong and notable performances in Body of Lies, Kick-Ass, Sunshine, and Syriana. What I liked about Godfrey (and for all of Ridley Scott’s villains) is that he’s not some flat, cliched comic book evildoer who’s simply bad. No, the villains that populate Ridley Scott’s films are downright evil motherfuckers who will eat your children alive. They are frightening badasses and Lord Godfrey exemplifies this. Finally, we have the surprise appearance of William Hurt as King John’s chancellor. I think its the first time I have seen Hurt play with a British accent and its passable to say the least. Hurt is always a welcome addition to any cast and he is the voice of reason and certainty in the King’s chaotic court.

Like all of Ridley Scott’s films, Robin Hood is a gorgeous looking movie. This is not a film you should wait to see on your television. There are beautiful panoramic shots that take advantage of the big screen. The film is epic in scope, which is another reason why you need to see this in a movie theater. Some critics have lamented the fact that Robin Hood does not contain a lot of action scenes. Its true that this is not Prince of Persia, but I felt that there were just as many action scenes as were contained in Gladiator. Besides, the film is worth the price of admission for the final battle sequence alone. Its reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan and The Lord of the Rings, but it stands on its own as a colossal heart pounder. There are a few directors in Hollywood known for their creative staging of action scenes and Ridley Scott is certainly one of them.

I’ve made it pretty clear that Robin Hood is worth making a trip to your local theater. Its an underrated film that is being unfairly discounted by critics. I couldn’t disagree more with the critics on this one and in fact, I would place Robin Hood up along with Scott’s Gladiator. See this film and let me know what you think of it.