Robin Hood and his Merry Men fight for justice for the little man. They live as outlaws in Sherwood Forest. They steal from the rich and give to the poor in opposition to Prince John's oppression and taxation of the people while King Richard is away on the Third Crusade. These are the conventions one might expect from a Robin Hood film. Don't expect any of them from this Robin Hood film.
In this version there is a Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge, VANITY FAIR), but he is not Robin Hood. In this version Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe, GLADIATOR), an archer in the army of King Richard (Danny Huston, EDGE OF DARKNESS), becomes the outlaw of legend. This version is the story of how he became that legend. While fighting in France, Robin is challenged by the king to tell him the truth about the crusade. Robin's answer ends him in the stockades. As fate would have it, King Richard dies on the battlefield and Sir Loxley is assigned the task of taking his crown home. On the way, he is ambushed by English double agent Godfrey (Mark Strong, SHERLOCK HOLMES), who is looking to assassinate King Richard for France. Now free Robin and his friends come upon the plot and run off Godfrey. He takes a vow to Loxley to return Loxley's family sword to his father Sir Walter (Max von Sydow, THE EXORCIST).
Posing as Sir Loxley, Robin presents the crown to the new king John (Oscar Isaac, BODY OF LIES). After, he proceeds to fulfill his promise to Loxley. He finds the Loxley estate in poor condition, driven to poverty by King Richard and now John's taxes. Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett, ELIZABETH) barely knew her husband Robert before he went off to war, but the news dashes her hopes that help is on the way. Sir Walter tells Robin that he knows his past and where he came from, something Robin has been searching for his whole life. Walter instantly trusts Robin and presents a plan to pass him off as his son so that when he dies Marion will not lose their land.
Meanwhile, Godfrey and his band of French troupes is seeding rebellion in England. King John looks like a fool having placed his trust in the traitor and pushing out Richard's advisor William Marshal (William Hurt, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE). Word that France plans to invade comes to John's mother Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eileen Atkins, COLD MOUNTAIN) who persuades his wife Isabella of Angouleme (Lea Seydoux, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS) to tell him the news, because she is the only one he will believe. The new king is not equipped to deal with a civil war and foreign invasion simultaneously.
As you have read, the film has a great deal of political intrigue in it. Notice I haven't even spoken of Little John (Kevin Durand, TV's LOST), Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes, TV's BAND OF BROTHERS), Allan A'Dayle (singer Alan Doyle), Friar Tuck (Mark Addy, THE FULL MONTY) or the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen, PRIDE & PREJUDICE). Real life characters play a bigger role in this tale of 12th century England. So why call it Robin Hood?
Director Ridley Scott isn't new to bringing the history of the crusades to the screen, having made the very good KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. The best elements deal with the folly of the crusades and John's terrible decisions as king. For the most part, these plot points are all based on true fact. Meanwhile, the legendary character of Robin Hood is weaved into this history. That's where the confliction begins.
In Scott's version, Robin Longstride is an honest common man disillusioned with the grand plans of kings. But he's a blank slate. He has no direct personal gripe against the state… as far as he knows. He arrives at the Loxley estate and is taken in without question and told of the inspiring words of his philosopher father, which for some reason he has forgotten completely about until reminded by Sir Walter. When the barons meet, he pops up and gives a speech about Magna Carta-like rights and now he's some grand leader that every one wants to follow. The film spends a great deal of time establishing the state of English under which a Robin Hood character would arise, but then makes huge leaps in developing Robin Longstride as that man.
The story also makes leaps in developing the love story between Robin and Marion. He steals some grain, plants her fields one night and now they're in love? Seems like a macho fantasy to me. All puns aside, he is a stranger to her when her father-in-law decides to force him upon her as her substitute husband and she doesn't find this disturbing? I know, I know, she's strong woman who threatens to cut off his manhood if he tries anything and she really wants to save her estate, but if she were really a strong woman would she not question the safety of this impetuous plan? And another thing, the PC desire to make women of the 12th century fight alongside men needs to be believable. In a film that tries to be period authentic, a woman riding out in full chainmail into battle is about as out of place as if she wore Kevlar and rode out in a Humvee.
Those uninterested in 12th century English politics will miss the conventional elements of the Robin Hood legend. There is one brief scene where Robin and his Merry Men steal grain to help plant the fields of Nottingham. But this isn't the film's focus. The action is more of the BRAVEHEART variety where Robin Hood joins in an army with King John. This would be all fine if it were the conclusion of act one. A quick peek at the Robin Hood we know at the very end seems like a cruel cliffhanger. It's hard to completely write this film off as a failed experiment, because it's excellently executed and entertaining. But it's not fulfilling. If it's successful than maybe we'll get a sequel and get the Robin Hood film this film should have been.