Summer Blockbuster Preview: Robin Hood

We take a look at the latest union of Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott, as they take Robin Hood back to basics...

What is it?

It’s one of the few blockbusters this summer that’s neither a sequel nor based on a comic book (or similarly lucrative source material), that’s what. In fact, Robin Hood is arguably one of the hardest sells of the summer.

It looks to be doing for the Robin Hood story what Batman Begins did for the adventures of the Dark Knight. Thus, the plan here is to explore the origins of the true Robin of the Hood, rather than the lighter, more glamourised versions we’re used to seeing on the big screen. As such, many of the elements you may recall from the tales of yonder aren’t going to be present here. This is a gritty, down and dirty Robin Hood, and one who, from the trailers, doesn’t look in the best of moods.

The key story remains reasonably familiar, even if some of the supporting characters might not. It’s still the 13th century tale of Robin Hood and his gang confronting the corrupt world in which they live, and effectively how a thief became known as a hero. And there’s still Lady Marian in there for Robin to fall for.

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Still, it’s far removed from the last major Robin Hood blockbuster back in 1991, when Kevin Costner took the lead role in Kevin Reynolds’ Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (a film that also went head to head with a Patrick Bergin-headed version that got a cinema release in some part of the world, but not the US), and Universal is pinning a lot on this one. Given that it’s overseen a string of quite expensive underperformers – of which Green Zone was the latest – it’s hoping that Robin Hood will ignite a brand new franchise.

For if this Robin Hood is doing the work of Batman Begins, then The Green Knight surely can’t be too far behind, should the box office numbers stack up…

Who’s Behind It?

The key creative duo at work here is the latest pairing of director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe. The early trailers echo their greatest hit together, the Oscar-winning Gladiator, and Crowe is certainly giving the impression thus far that his Robin will be a ferocious beast.

The pair have quite a cast backing them up, too. Max von Sydow is an always-welcome addition to any film, and we also get Mark Strong as Sir Godfrey, Cate Blanchett as Marian, William Hurt as William Marshall and Kevin Durand as Little John. Much will rest upon the shoulders of Matthew Macfadyen’s Sheriff of Nottingham, though, (and he absolutely won’t be channelling Alan Rickman we suspect) and Danny Huston’s King Richard.

Finally, the script has come from the pen of Brian Helgeland, no stranger to harder-edged movies himself. His CV has scripts for L.A. Confidential, Mystic River, the underrated Payback (which he also directed) and Green Zone on it, among others, and he’s also responsible for another screenplay this summer, the Angelina Jolie-headed thriller, Salt.

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Why Should We Watch It?

That’s a question that’s been bubbling around since the first trailer was seen. Ridley Scott’s take on Robin Hood couldn’t be much more removed from the last time we saw the character on the big screen (in, er, Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men In Tights, with Cary Elwes taking the lead), and it could generously be said that the film is aiming at the rougher edge of the family audience.

The early signs have been mixed. Trailers so far – and they’ve steadily improved – have brought about a range of reactions, with some wondering if Scott and Crowe have simply managed to suck the fun out of the story (which we saw in a blockbuster with last summer’s Wolverine), while others have praised the fact that there seems more of an emphasis on actual filmmaking than gimmicks. Furthermore, the move towards darker films in the middle of the most lucrative season of the year is surely one to be applauded.

Arguably too, there’s as much a reason to support the film for what it isn’t as much as what it is. This summer seems just as sequel and franchise packed as ever, and you’ll find few genuinely risky projects in the pack over the coming months (save, of course, for Inception). Robin Hood is one of them, not least because it appears to be applying the rules that worked so well for Batman to a non-established franchise.

That, surely, is a good thing. And so is the presence of Ridley Scott behind the camera. Here’s a director who hasn’t made a great film for a number of years, but is clearly capable of making one. At least with him directing, you have to say the film has a massive fighting chance, and will have a clear vision behind it (how far removed from Gladiator that vision is remains to be seen). And in Russell Crowe, he has a star actor who consistently delivers a quality performance.

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Perhaps the main worry is having to sit through yet another origin story, that’s primed to get you to buy a ticket for a sequel in two years’ time. There’s enough talent at work here to suggest that may not be the case, and Robin Hood is a film we’re keen to see, given just who’s involved. It’s just one that might have to punch a little bit harder than the rest to get noticed.

UK Release Date: 14 May US Release Date: 14 May