“Robin Hood,” the latest collaboration between star Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott, may have its roots in the foggy past of 12th-century legend about the man in tights who robbed the rich and helped the poor. But, with its origin-story approach, jut-jawed good guys, hiss-worthy bad guys, splashy action, and setup for a sequel, this beefed-up “Robin Hood” is more comic-book contemporary than history-book medieval; call it “Robin Hood and His Merry X-Men.”

That’s not to say that “Robin Hood” isn’t slickly enjoyable. It sports some arresting visuals, a sense of rough-hewn realism missing from most productions of “Robin Hood,” some notable performances – especially in the supporting roles – and doesn’t drag too much, despite its 140-minute running time. But it also doesn’t stick in the memory much after the lights go up.

The film starts with several loose strands, including England’s King Richard the Lion Heart (Danny Huston) trying to fight off the French; Richard’s younger brother, Prince John (Oscar Isaac), plotting to take the throne; and Marion (Cate Blanchett), whose husband is off fighting in Richard’s army and who has to care for her father-in-law (Max Von Sydow), struggling to keep her farm together despite onerous taxation and harassment from the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfayden) as well as thievery from local orphans.

Tying it all together is the conflict between a vengeful Robin Longstride (Crowe), an archer in Richard’s army who unexpectedly finds himself upgraded beyond his pay scale to defender of the realm, and double-dealing nobleman Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong) who has allied himself with both Prince John and the French but needs to get upstart Robin out of the way to get what he wants. Like the hyperbolic promos for TV season finales always intone: It. All. Comes. Down. To. This.

The problem with this approach, as envisioned by screenwriter Brian Helgeland, is that there’s little time for the camaraderie between Robin and his rather faceless crew. Little John (Kevin Durand) and Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes) show off a sense of humor and Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) sure loves his bees and honey mead but we get little more from them than one-liners. That’s all probably being saved for the sequel when Robin and the boys will take up their more predictable places in Sherwood Forest.

More questionable is the lack of chemistry between Crowe and Blanchett who, despite her initial distrust of him, are supposed to be a great love match. But there’s little evidence of it.

Keeping things afloat are Scott’s sweeping sense of visuals, including some well-staged battle scenes that aren’t too gruesome, and a couple of memorable performances including Isaac’s sniveling Prince John.

As far as summer popcorn movies go, audiences could do worse. But considering what might have been expected from Crowe and Scott, who did “American Gangster” and “Gladiator” together, and Helgeland (“Mystic River,” “L.A. Confidential”), they also could do better.

 


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