From Ripley in that vest in 'Alien' to Deckard in that mac in 'Blade Runner' and on to Michael Douglas with that mullet in 'Black Rain' and Russell Crowe with that crew cut in 'Gladiator', outsiders, renegades and misfits have been with Ridley Scott throughout his career. So there's not much surprise in his decision to tell the story of one of the biggest of them all, only that it took him so long to head down Nottingham way. And there's not a pair of green tights in sight.

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More a prequel than the full-on Robin Hood adventure you'd expect, Scott shows us how the man became the legend through a series of twists and turns on the battlefield and in royal quarters.

We first meet Robin Longstride (Crowe) in France, an archer under the command of Richard the Lionheart (Huston). When the King is killed in combat, Longstride and three comrades - Little John, Will Scarlett and Allan A'Dayle - decide they've done enough soldiering and head for the French coast before the entire army has the same idea.

The quartet stumble on the aftermath of an ambush in which one of their commanders, Sir Robert Loxley, has been grievously wounded by Sir Godfrey (Strong), the double-dealing royal enforcer. Killing most of Godfrey's hit squad and wounding him, Longstride discovers that Loxley was carrying Richard's crown back to England - something that will allow the deserters to pose as Loxley and his knights and give them a better chance of getting home.

But before they mount up, the dying man makes Longstride promise that he will bring his sword back to his father Sir Walter (Sydow) and wife Marian (Blanchett) in Nottingham. And so one life ends for the commoner and a new one begins.

With a great scene at the start involving a castle, hot oil, a battering ram and hundreds of soldiers on the ramparts and at the front door, 'Robin Hood' looks like it's going to offer one set piece treat after another. But instead Scott decides to give the audience a lot more conversation and a lot less action - think of this movie as a drama with big battles at the start and finish and you'll probably enjoy it more.

While 'Robin Hood' isn't as exciting or fast-moving as 'Gladiator', in places it recalls Scott's 2000 film. Once again one man finds himself caught up in political scheming and skulduggery involving an out-to-lunch ruler (a great Oscar Isaac) and becomes an inspiration to many by taking a stand. Paradoxically, while Crowe is playing one of the world's most well-known tough guys, his performance isn't as iconic as when he was stuck in the sands of the Coliseum 10 years ago. Is that because we've seen so many Sherwood Forest adventures or because Scott's film needed a stronger script? Maybe a bit of both.

Whatever the shortcomings of 'Robin Hood' it's worth seeing for the epic showdown on an English beach where the French Army decides to pay an unannounced visit and Robin decides to welcome them on horseback with a huge hammer. You leave wishing that the fight could've continued for another 15 minutes and thinking that if Scott can do an 'Alien' prequel, then maybe he can return to this story for a fist-pumping, arrows-by-the-millions sequel when he's done.

Regardless of what he decides, it's life-affirming that the director is still thinking this big and challenging himself at the age of 72. The biggest hero here is the one that's never on the screen.

Harry Guerin

Listen to the 'Framerate' review of 'Robin Hood' from RTÉ Choice.