'Robin Hood': The Reviews Are In!

Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott's gritty re-telling gets points for historical accuracy, but not much else.

Robin Hood and his band of merry, arrow-slinging thieves who steal from posh landowners and enrich the mud-caked, poverty-stricken masses are nowhere to be found in [movieperson id="14200"]Russell Crowe[/movieperson] and director Ridley Scott's version of the centuries-old folktale. In their place is an entirely new take on Robin, a gritty origin story of sorts, grounded in medieval social and economic history and seeking to explain, through storytelling and vicious bloodletting, just how the iconic title hero came to be known as a champion of the English people.

Was it a wise choice to give Robin Hood a "Gladiator"-style makeover? How does this dark version hold up, both as a contemporary action movie and when compared to past, often merrier takes on Robin? With the film hitting theaters on Friday (May 14), the reviews are in. Let's see what the critics are saying about Crowe and Scott's fifth big-screen collaboration.

There's no doubting the effort that filmmakers made to create a realistic, historically accurate world in which Robin would exist. Whether that world lends itself to a first-rate movie experience is, however, up for debate. "Scott's approach to the legend becomes persuasive," Mick LaSalle argued in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Instead of the usual romantic adventure, Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland offer a gritty drama, using the Robin Hood story to depict the birth pangs of liberty. They ground the film in the details of medieval life. We see how wars were fought — the various strategies and weaponry — and how news traveled. We see the attempts at pomp and splendor, the church bells and trumpets greeting the arrival of the king. Mainly we see harshness and ugliness."

Less impressed with how Scott brought this history to life is our own Kurt Loder. "Much research has gone into getting all this medieval backstory right (or somewhat right)," he wrote. "But the heavy scholarship turns the movie into what seems like a very long history lesson in a loud, dark and unusually muddy lecture hall. The endless battles, skirmishes and castle-stormings, accompanied by the usual arrow storms, head-axings and downpourings of boiling oil, are nothing we haven't seen before. (Although in one seaside battle, with enemy ships crashing up onto the beach and much slaughter in the water, we half-expect Tom Hanks to come wandering through in search of Private Spielberg.) Even more dated are the inevitable roistering peasants, with their campfire rabbit roasts and sloshy revels. ('More wine!')"

In place of Hanks, of course, we have Crowe as Robin. The obvious comparison here is to Crowe's sword-swinging general in "Gladiator." Most critics find the contrast of his Maximus to his Robin an unflattering one. "[T]he way Crowe plays Robin, which is heavily, without ever once modulating his impassive, minimalist squint, he's far too even-keeled to inspire us," Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman wrote. "He's like the hero of 'Gladiator,' only without a vengeful mission — or a slave to fight."

And about the fights in [movie id="336923"]"Robin Hood."[/movie] Quite a few critics found them disappointing — or worse. "[T]he battles are so bland, the action so transparently choreographed and the characters so interchangeable, it's never clear who to root for or what to care about," Andy Lowe said on TotalFilm.com. "The choice mostly comes down to either 'Bad guy hit by an arrow. Good!' or 'Good guy hit by an arrow. Bad!' "

We'll give the final word to The Oregonian's Shawn Levy. "The story lines pile up, like the characters, needlessly: the struggle to impose a charter of rights on the king; the treacheries of the French; the secret past of Robin's father; the melding of Robin's troupe (with an utterly superfluous tribe of poaching orphan boys); the love story ... None of it comes together, and none of it makes you root for a second go-round in which, presumably, our hero would get on with the robbing-of-the-rich-and-giving-to-the-poor for which he's celebrated."

Check out everything we've got on "Robin Hood."

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