The opening act could even work as a sequel to that film: fighting his way back from the Crusades in the army of Richard the Lionheart, archer Robin Longstride decides to head for home when the King gets an arrow in the neck. By a series of unbelievable coincidences, Robin finds himself posing as deceased nobleman Robert Locksley, charged with taking news of the Lionheart’s death back to his troublesome brother, the new King John (Oscar Isaac).
This kickstarts the long series of subterfuges, political dirty deals and full-scale treachery that constitute the film’s wildly convoluted story. It's plots aplenty: King John plots against his former Chancellor, Marshall (a stately William Hurt); traitor Godfrey (Mark Strong) plots against John, Robin and the entire English nation in concert with the devious King Philip of France; while Maid Marian (Cate Blanchett) and her ailing father-in-law (Max von Sydow) plot to keep Robin in Nottingham in the guise of the former Lord Locksley.
Confused? You will be. Anyone expecting a straightforward woodland beat-em-up will be bemused and most likely dismayed by the intricacies of the narrative, particularly when it becomes clear that Scott has been forced to trim back the action to fit in all these dastardly goings-on. Add a complete absence of characterisation, some laughable accents (Crowe sounds like he’s auditioning for ‘Coronation Street’) and a sense of history that would make Simon Schama scream, and you’ve got the makings of what should be a tedious, overblown disaster.
But for all his faults, Scott knows what he’s doing. The film looks terrific: the English landscape hasn’t looked so lush and magical for a long time, particularly in a clutch of gorgeous moonlit night scenes. Aesthetically it's convincing, which goes a long way towards offsetting the more nutty convolutions in the plot. And while characterisation has been cut to the bone, Crowe, Blanchett, Strong and especially Von Sydow remain eminently watchable, with strong, likeable support from the likes of Mark Addy as Friar Tuck and Matthew MacFadyen as a marvellously greasy Sheriff of Nottingham.
Best of all, the film just feels huge: genuinely epic in a way few movies have since ‘Lord of the Rings’. The endless plot twists may be perplexing, but they work to make the movie feel eventful and involving: after 140 minutes, audiences will feel like they’ve been somewhere, lived through something. And so, while this ‘Robin Hood’ is a long way from perfect, it remains a satisfyingly immense and old fashioned grand-canvas experience.