Few Hollywood actors are more maligned than the venerable Kevin Costner. Despite his status as an Oscar winner and lead roles in two of the best sports films of all time, he seems to be remembered much more for his misses than his hits. In 1991, on the heels of the astounding success of Dances with Wolves and before the twin big-budget disasters of Waterworld and The Postman, Costner and director Kevin Reynolds reimagined the Robin Hood myth for a new generation.
Though comparisons to the many previous screen versions, particularly 1976's Robin and Marian, are inevitable, screenwriters Pen Densham and John Watson have created an entirely unique, if somewhat limited, reinterpretation of the classic tale. Most notably, a fervent political correctness abounds.
The Crusades as the reason for King Richard's absence from England and their wrongness is brought to the forefront, even spelled out specifically several times to ensure the viewer understands that the English invasion into the Middle East was wrong. Morgan Freeman's character, Azeem, exists largely to show the superiority of Eastern technology and philosophy over Western. His frequent jabs at the backwardness of the English make the underlying and largely unseen Holy War easier for Christian audiences to stomach.
Feminism gets a surprising boost as well with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's feisty and fully capable Maid Marian. Though Robin Hood still comes to her rescue in the film's final battle sequence, she more than holds her own with a sword earlier on, and she is every bit as headstrong and decisive as the title character himself.
This "updating" of the story detracts little from the tale, though a willing suspension of disbelief is required. Despite the pervasive anachronism, this is likely the most realistic version of the Robin Hood story ever filmed. The specificity of setting in time and place and the grittiness of the violence makes this more modern take stand apart from prior, far more campy interpretations.