Russell Crowe, in 'Robin Hood'

Dir. Ridley Scott
(PG-13, 140 min)
★ ½

Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood tells the untold story of the English folk hero — and by “untold” I mean the writers made it up. Russell Crowe plays the title outlaw, who is a soldier in the army of King Marcus Aurelius (Danny Huston) until the king dies, leaving control of the Roman Empire in the hands of Commodus (Oscar Isaac), a self-entitled brat obsessed with his own power. He disguises himself as the Spaniard and lays low, until he rises against injustice and becomes a hero of the people.

Have I confused this for the plot of Gladiator? Well, so did the screenplay. Brian Helgeland was hired to rewrite a spec script by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris that focused more on the Sheriff of Nottingham, and if there was anything new or interesting in the original draft he made sure to hammer it out.

Danny Huston actually plays Richard the Lionheart. Oscar Isaac plays his younger brother John. Lowly archer Robin disguises himself as deceased knight Sir Robert Loxley, but instead of becoming a slave for blood sport gets to share a bedchamber with Cate Blanchett as Lady Marion — a better deal, you’ll agree. King Richard was never a loving mentor to Robin, but that’s okay. Robin gets one of those later, trading in Gladiator’s kindly Richard Harris for Max Von Sydow, who is kindly and blind as the real Robert Loxley’s father, Walter. There’s an added complication: King John’s treacherous advisor Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong) is secretly working with King Philip of France to destabilize the country and leave it vulnerable for invasion.

The plot is a clothesline for dreary and monotonous action scenes. A lot of money went into turning the famous Robin Hood tale into a generic actioner — more than $200 million — but the director’s heart doesn’t seem to be in it. His villains are one-dimensional. His heroes are uninspiring. The romance has the depth of a Katherine Heigl movie: Marion hates Robin at first, they bicker, she recognizes his virtue, and they fall obligatorily in love. The writers can’t decide whether she’s a contemporary, independent heroine or a damsel in distress, so we get silly scenes like the one where she rides into battle but quickly needs to be rescued, leading to a kiss in the middle of the war zone that, with her nearly drowned and him bleeding onto her face, is about the least romantic you could devise.

The climactic battle on the coast with the French army is comically overwrought, with Robin at one point rising out of the water and bellowing like the Kraken and later firing an arrow at an adversary in slow-motion, close-up, and from multiple angles. There might be a POV shot in there too — the arrow is more lovingly filmed than the actors.

“This doesn’t look like a country at war with itself,” bemoans King Philip when he sees the British resistance, but given the paltry number of ships in his fleet, it appears he has underestimated not only England’s unrest but its population. Somehow I expected more from a conquering nation; the battles in 2007’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age were equally bombastic, but at least the Spanish Armada seemed to be trying.

The all-star cast also includes William Hurt, buried under scruffy hair and beard as royal advisor William Marshal, and Eileen Atkins as Eleanor of Aquitaine, the mother of Richard and John. Eleanor of Aquitaine is most familiar from the play The Lion in Winter, which was adapted into two films you’d rather be watching than this one.