Who's In It: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, Max von Sydow, William Hurt, Danny Huston, Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle, Mark Addy, Oscar Isaac
The Basics: Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is an honest but lowly archer in King Richard's army, until he assumes the identity of a fallen knight after vowing to fulfill the man's dying wish to return a prized sword to his father's estate in Nottingham. There, Robin meets the man's comely widow, Lady Marian (Cate Blanchett), and continues to live under his assumed identity to preserve the family's claim on the land. Meanwhile, the spoiled and reckless Prince John (Oscar Isaac) inherits the throne and must thwart an insidious invasion by Philip of France with the help of Longstride and the disgruntled people of England. Also, there are creepy little barefoot kids who live in the forest and wear sacks over their heads like they’re about to home invade Liv Tyler in The Strangers. And just like that, the legend of Robin Hood is born! More or less.
What's The Deal: Ridley Scott's grimy-yet-gorgeous take on the Robin Hood legend grounds the familiar hero's tale in the fascinating context of actual European history, and as a result, it feels refreshingly like a Robin Hood we haven't seen before. Unfortunately, weaving Robin's origin story into a sprawling morass of international politics, backstabbing, egoism, and dirty dealings -- nothing out of the ordinary during the reigns of King Richard the Lionheart and his brother, King John -- means that Scott has an awful lot of explaining to do… and the film comes to a grinding halt whenever he has to do it.
Why It Pays To Stay Awake: All that said, the film's handful of action set pieces are stunning lessons in historical warfare; it's clear, for instance, that someone did their homework to show us exactly how the English army stormed a castle with alternating ranks of archers and infantrymen, sacks of oil, and plenty of fire-tipped arrows. But rousing as those battle scenes are, it won't matter if you've fallen asleep while Prince John messed up foreign relations with France, or while the blind Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow, still kicking at 81) talks about socialist philosophies some dude wrote on a stone tablet decades earlier.
What It Needed Instead: Less talking, more Robin and his Merry Men -- the hedonist mercenaries Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes, aka the kid from Critters), Little John (the hilarious Kevin Durand, lately of Lost), and Allan A'Dayle (Celtic musician Alan Doyle). And while Crowe and Blanchett have a solid tentative-then-trusting chemistry, their whirlwind relationship needed a little more time to develop. But hey, that's what the sequel's for!
Things Ridley Scott Knows How To Shoot: Russell Crowe wielding a sword. Russell Crowe shooting a bow and arrow. Russell Crowe shooting a bow and arrow in slow motion while soaked head to toe in water. The gorgeous English coasts and countryside. Cate Blanchett's natural beauty (admittedly, that's hard to get wrong).
The Main Takeaway, I Think: Do you like paying taxes? Taxes that the government spends on costly wars overseas, leaving the common people to struggle to make ends meet? Neither did the people of 13th century England! When enough is enough, the people have a right to say no to their government, and Russell Crowe is just the man who will unite us all in our tax-evading, rabble-rousing, French-fighting crusade. Down with the French! Long live Robin Hood (and its inevitable sequels, whether we want them or not)!
What I Missed Most: Men in tights and Bryan Adams ballads.