The legend of Robin Hood is one of those really solid folktales with everything going for it - a charismatic hero, a damsel-not-so-in-distress, a motley bunch of supporting characters and a solid set of dastardly villains, all playing around in a spirited medieval setting. Over the past few decades, cinema has seen a need to reinvent the story, whether it be as high melodrama in ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ (1991), or Ridley Scott’s deathly serious version in 2010. Well, the wheel has been reinvented again with Otto Bathurst’s debut feature ‘Robin Hood’, but if you were wondering why the hell we need another new take on this legend, I’m afraid the film itself doesn’t have an answer.
The basics are essentially the same - Robin of Loxley (Taron Egerton, ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’, ‘Eddie the Eagle’) is drafted into the Crusades, leaving his estate and his love Marian (Eve Hewson, ‘This Must Be The Place’) behind. He returns years later to find Nottingham taken over by the scheming Sheriff (Ben Mendelsohn, ‘Ready Player One’, ‘Darkest Hour’), taxing the people into poverty fund the Crusades, and with the help of his Arabian comrade John (Jamie Foxx, ‘Baby Driver’, ‘Annie’), disguises himself as a thief and aims to turn the tide against the Sheriff.
In a year where we’ve seen an unusually large amount of terrible studio films, ‘Robin Hood’ may just be the worst of the lot. While the very basic narrative points are straightforward, the film itself is a never-ending series of bizarre choices, incongruities, banalities and clichés. Hell, I’m still trying to decide if the damn thing was even racist. The revisionist take from screenwriters Ben Chandler and David James Kelly attempts to reframe the story as a comment on the importance of the separation of church and state, along with not-at-all subtle current social and political references. However, they do so in such a ham-fisted and heavy-handed manner that none of the allegory works, further hindered by the film’s refusal to establish itself in any set time period. This might seem like a small thing, but not establishing it in a discernible period of history denies things like the Crusades any context, thus reducing the enemy to simply the "Arabians" and being shockingly reductive to the few people of colour in the film. We’re told we’re in England, but we don’t understand what England this is, and for some reason Nottingham is the centre of the entire Catholic Church (Nottingham?!). As a result, the look of the film is as calamitous as the story it’s trying to tell, a horrid mismatch of medieval elements haphazardly mixed with modern and multicultural in a manner that’s far more confusing than imaginative, like a 'Game of Thrones' set done on the cheap.
What it all really comes down to is that it’s never clear what this ‘Robin Hood’ is trying to do or say, until you realise that it doesn’t have anything to do or say. It’s simply a series of derivative facsimiles of better films and better ideas thrown together in the belief that, if it follows the blueprints of other (better) films, it will all work out in its favour. So much of the film stinks of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ Trilogy, from its lazy attempt to replicate that series’ gritty action and drama, to having Robin lead a double life, pretending to be a Bruce Wayne-style playboy to keep everyone off the scent of him as the Hood. The visual language again steals from Nolan, but does so just as much from Snyder’s ‘300’ and Richie’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ films. Borrowing techniques is fine if they have reason, but there’s so little rhyme or reason to ‘Robin Hood’, so little original thought in it, that it can’t be seen as anything less that laziness, and Bathurst makes zero impression as a director in his own right. And don’t even get me started on the score - they might as well have spared the composer the effort of having to mimic the temp track clearly made up of ‘Tron: Legacy’ and ‘The Dark Knight’ and just bought the rights to them outright, because the score here is millimetres away from blatant plagiarism.
I mean, maybe how badly made the film is could be forgiven if it was at least fun (like ‘Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters’ or something), but ‘Robin Hood’ is so dumb, its relationships so obvious, its narrative so predictable, its characters so thinly drawn and its dialogue so clunky that it basically gives no reason to keep watching. It doesn’t even have the foresight to make fun of itself, to save the mess by putting its tongue in its cheek and giving us a knowing wink. You get the horrid feeling that it’s a film that thinks very highly of itself, very confident in what it perceives to be its good qualities, like an arrogant high school jock parading around in their underwear, showing off their muscles proudly without realising that no one is watching or cares.
It’s never clear what this ‘Robin Hood’ is trying to do or say, until you realise that it doesn’t have anything to do or say
And the performances are universally terrible. Taron Egerton is terrible, his natural charisma sapped away by the terrible script and vacuous direction, betraying an arrogance you want to believe is the character and not the usually wonderful Egerton himself. Jamie Foxx is terrible, all bravado and no substance (also he keeps calling Robin by the nickname "English" which can only be a shitty reference to Omar Sharif in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, which can only make me hate this character and this film even more because how very dare they). Tim Minchin is woefully miscast as Friar Tuck, his bumbling humour totally out of place, and Jamie Dornan is terrible as Will Scarlet simply by virtue of the fact that he has basically nothing to do but be the film’s Harvey Dent. And for the love of all that is holy, can someone please give Ben Mendelsohn a part that doesn’t require him to play the same villain he’s been playing for the past decade?! His Nottingham is basically his character from ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ in his costume from ‘Rogue One’, a weird mix of sadism and homoerotic tension that feels disgusting and even a tad homophobic (of course the foulest character in the film is the homoerotic one). In fact, the only person who comes out with any dignity intact is Eve Hewson, the only woman in the film with a speaking part, and only because, unlike every man in the film, she isn’t acting so hard in every scene that she might blow a vein at any moment. ‘Robin Hood’ is Bro-Acting at its absolute worst, each male actor trying to out-yell and out-feel the last one.
Honestly, I can’t believe I just wasted time writing about this film, because I know I’ll barely ever think about it again (apart from the one shot early on where Ben Mendelsohn is sitting at a desk and there’s a plate of sausage rolls next to him, I’ll never not be thinking about that). ‘Robin Hood’ is the definition of a forgettable film - forgettable because it has no purpose, because it’s poorly executed and because it offers absolutely nothing to the story or the entertainment of its audience. It aggressively wants to be a franchise and aggressively believes it will be, but it’s just so aggressively inadequate. Its confidence in itself just makes you feel sorry for it - well, almost. I’d be more inclined to feel sorry for it if it had made any kind of effort in the first place.