Directed by Otto Bathurst
Starring: Taron Egerton, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Jamie Foxx
I’ve probably stated this before, and probably will do so again, but there is a certain imp of the perverse that gets a small thrill from disaster. It’s part of the same reason that we slow down and gawk at car crashes, or watch sports fails on YouTube. For me that imp can be pretty strong influence in certain films, and make an utter train wreck of a movie joyous fun. Such is the case in the latest version of Robin Hood.
After four years fighting the Crusades in the Holy Land, Robin of Loxley (Taron Egerton), returns to Nottingham to find his previous life destroyed. Declared killed in action, his lands have been confiscated by the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) to pay for the war, his betrothed Marion (Eve Hewson) has moved on with her life, and his hometown is languishing under the tight grip of a Sheriff’s control (aided by an equally corrupt church). With the aid of a Moorish ally, John (Jamie Foxx), Robin seeks a way to fight against the system, and return what he can to the common people.
As the opening narration quickly states you should forget about what you thought you knew of history. It neglects to mention that you should probably forget about what you know of chemistry, physics, religion, fashion, economics, or even a cursory understanding of the feudal system as well. Robin Hood clearly doesn’t care about historical accuracy, which is fair enough for a tale based initially on French romance rather than historical basis, and casts it quickly to the four winds. From English crusaders going through an obvious Iraq war inspired setting, to antifa peasants clashing with riot shield wielding knights in the streets of Nottingham, Robin Hood plays it very lose with setting.
Having jettisoned everything beyond the vaguest notion of historical setting it instead prioritises action. Heavy crossbows become light machine guns pinning squads of knights in the Crusader states, medieval mines become a platform game level complete with gouts of flame -it is all patently ridiculous, but a great background for staging the film’s numerous fights and chases. Although there is perhaps a little too much reliance on computer generated effects and digital sets, these scenes are exceptionally well choreographed, giving the film a much needed forward momentum and a raucous sense of adventure.
However at close to two hours it’s a momentum Robin Hood can’t sustain. The more time the film spends trying to stitch those action sequences together, the more blindingly obvious the flaws are. It leans into the anarchic “down with the system” themes of the central outlaw character, but the Sheriff’s scheme is so mindbogglingly implausible as to be D.O.A. No amount of growling by Mendelsohn can make this an effective threat, despite the accomplished actor making the character a terrifying (albeit scenery chewing) villain, the sheer ridiculousness of his aims robs the film of dramatic tension.
There’s similar issues with Egerton, who is great in an action hero role, and serviceable as the rakish Loxley (as he executes a ploy straight from The Scarlet Pimpernel). However there is no chemistry between Hewson and him, leaving a rather flat trajectory for the Robin and Marion love story.
With a poor plot, and key elements of the myth bogged down with issues, Robin Hood struggles. True, its action beats are well executed, and add a lot of entertainment value, but it’s hard to escape the fact that this film’s script is a mess. There’s some rather misguided fun to be had with this cinematic catastrophe, but it’s not something I could recommend for everyone.