At first, Russell Crowe is not the Hollywood image of Robin Hood we've become accustomed to. Even Kevin Costner in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" (1991) is closer to the Errol Flynn image in "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938) often associated with the mythical outlaw of England's Sherwood Forest.

You won't find Russell Crowe in tights, green cloak and a jaunty cap. Crowe, with the physique of a World Wrestling Entertainment performer and apparently an attitude to match (at least when the media gets to asking questions he dislikes), is more like one of the boys from the Hood, a more urban kind of guy rather than one prone to sitting in trees.

And yet, at least in the latest interpretation by director Ridley Scott, Crowe is really quite perfect to portray Robin Hood, here depicted as a fierce fighter if not straight out of Compton, then that ancient hood depicted in "Gladiator" (2000), that other well-known Scott-Crowe collaboration.

So, while the history surrounding Robin Hood may be circuspect, or downright suspect (Robin Hood was mainly celebrated in ballads, plays and poems with scant historical basis that there ever was such a figure), "Robin Hood" as a movie succeeds. This is epic entertainment.

"Robin Hood" takes up where the Crusades leave off, apparently plunging England into an economic morass that can only be righted, so the king believes, by plundering his own people. Meanwhile, France, in D-Day in reverse, is ready to strike England.

The movie has a formalistic approach, with numerous title cards, and bookended introduction and conclusion (that shouts sequel) as those of movies in Hollywood's studio heyday.

Scott builds rather slowly and deliberately from the screenplay by Brian Helgeland ("Mystic River"). And, if the various ruling leaders and court attendants are difficult to sort out, by the time the movie's action scenes kick in, we are on Robin Hood's side and nearly hissing his foes.

Crowe proves a sympathetic Robin Hood, a gruff-voiced rebel of few words, with a kind and loyal side to those kind and loyal to him. He returns the favor. If not, look out. Crowe bears close watching. His is a very satisfying performance.

As Marion, here a widow, Cate Blanchett is as always marvelous onscreen, with a steely gaze and strong bearing that only ever so gradually melts in the presence of Robin Hood.

The romance between Robin and Marion is handled beautifully.

Max Von Sydow as Marion's father is a charming delight as the movie's moral compass.

The supporting characters portray the villainy as harshly as possibly without become caricature.

The quick-edited battle scenes and there are many are masterfully staged. By the time they arrive, the viewer is emotionally invested enough to not care whether Robin Hood was real or myth. "Robin Hood" doesn't steal from the audience.

"ROBIN HOOD": MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for violence including intense sequences of warfare, and some sexual content; Genre: Action, Drama; Run time: 2 hrs.; Distributed by Universal Pictures.

CREDIT READERS' ANONYMOUS: Parts of "Robin Hood" were filmed in the mythical outlaw's lair, Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, England.

BOX OFFICE, May 14, "Iron Man 2" made it two in a row at No. 1 with $53 million and $212 million, two weeks. "Robin Hood" opened at No. 2, with a solid $37.1 million. "Letters to Juliet," starring Allentown native Amanda Seyfried, opened at No. 3, with only $13.7 million. "Just Wright," starring Queen Latifah, opened at No. 4, with a disappointing $8.5 million.

5. "How to Train Your Dragon," $5.1 million, $207.7 million, eight weeks; 6. "A Nightmare on Elm Street," $4.7 million, $56.1 million, three weeks; 7. "Date Night," $4 million, $86.6 million, six weeks; 8. "The Back-Up Plan," $2.4 million, $34.2 million, four weeks; 9. "Furry Vengeance," $2.3 million, $15.1 million, three weeks; 10. "Clash of the Titans," $1.2 million, $160.1 million, seven weeks

UNREEL: May 21:

"SHREK FOREVER AFTER," Rated PG: Mike Myers is back to voice Shrek, who makes a deal with Rumpelstiltskin that goes terribly wrong. Shrek is no longer king and must restore not only his kingdom, but his true love, Fiona (Cameron Diaz). The voices of Eddie Murphy as Donkey and Anrtonio Banderas and Puss in Boots are also back.

"MACGRUBER," Rated R: Will Forte plays MacGruber, an ex-special agent back in action to stop his archenemy Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer). The movie, based on a "Saturday Night Live" sketch, also stars "SNL"'s Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes