No one’s really sure if there ever was a Robin Hood, and because of that, no one’s entirely sure what he looked like, what he wore, or where (or when) he lived.

So to sit here and say Ridley Scott’s new Robin Hood is an affront to the legend is just silly.

No, Scott’s vision does not include a young man dolled up in a Peter Pan outfit with green tights and a feathered cap. There’s not a single instance of “stealing from the rich to give to the poor”. And there’s certainly no trace of a lute-playing rooster.

Instead, we have Russell Crowe in chain mail, Cate Blanchette playing Maid Marian as a feisty, strong-willed farmhand, and some pretty darn good battle scenes… and it all adds up to two-plus hours of surprisingly fun summer movie-going.

Just like Guy Ritchie’s take on Sherlock Holmes, it may not be what you expect based on the character’s folklore, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining.

Scott is teaming with Crowe for the fourth straight time (and fifth overall), and he truly seems to have found his muse. The actor’s quiet calm and gentle demeanor bring a new twist on the legend, and Scott keeps the action going throughout, building up to a good (though not great) battle finale.

The action begins at the turn of the 12th century with Robin fighting alongside King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston). Together they storm a castle, only to have the King die from an archer’s arrow. Robin decides to abandon the fight, and he grabs a couple men with familiar names to go along with him: Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) and Little John (Kevin Durand).

On their way back to England, though, they uncover a conspiracy that puts the newly-throned King (not Prince) John in jeopardy; his “buddy” Godfrey (Mark Strong) has made a back-door deal to help orchestrate France’s invasion of fair England.

And that’s only one-quarter of the plot. Screenwriter Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River) has never told a simple story, and Robin Hood is no exception. Subplots abound, including Robin’s trip to Nottingham to return a comrade’s sword to the man’s father (Max von Sydow, who steals every scene he’s in). But it turns out the sword isn’t just any sword. And it turns out the soldier’s widowed wife is none other than Marian. There’s a lot going on, but credit Helgeland for putting it all together so effectively.

Credit also goes to cinematographer John Mathieson (Gladiator, The Phantom of the Opera), who sets the perfect mood and (bonus!) does us all a favor by keeping the herky-jerky camera work to a minimum; it’s amazing how enjoyable a movie can be when you can actually see what’s going on. And call me clichéd, but that arrow-point-of-view shot during the final battle is pretty slick.

Overall, this version of Robin Hood will remind you of Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V or Mel Gibson’s The Patriot more than any traditional ol’ story about the Man in Tights, and, frankly, that’s alright.

Most importantly there’s not a cheesy Bryan Adams song to be found anywhere.

3.5/5 stars