Director - Otto Bathurst
Cast - Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Jamie Dornan, Tim Minchin
Rating - 1/5
Strangely enough, the best way to understand the prevalent cinematic climate of an era is to look at that era’s rendition of Robin Hood. It’s a timeless tale, one that remains relatable regardless of human progress. The rich are the enemy, the poor must be protected. Times change, the world doesn’t.
Back in the ‘20s and ‘30s, in the era of swashbuckling Hollywood adventures, it was Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn who gave us our first real cinematic Robin Hoods. Flynn’s charming portrayal in particular, remains, for many, the defining take on the character - much like Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes, or Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, all of whom were contemporaries. Kevin Costner’s American-accented take in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves reflected the movie star-driven industry of the ‘90s. Sir Ridley Scott’s 2010 film, starring Russell Crowe, was less a Gladiator reunion and more a response to the revolution that Christopher Nolan had brought to Hollywood.
This 2018 Robin Hood, however, is a tough nut to crack. Virtually every scene in it feels like a facsimile of something we’ve seen before - as if the studio purchased a terribly bland vigilante thriller screenplay, saw vague potential in it, and then hired someone to dress it up in medieval clothes. It has the tone of a dumb Bruce Willis movie, an opening action scene that reminded me of American Sniper, and less intelligence than Mel Brooks’ parody, Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
Taron Egerton plays ‘Rob’, four words that should appropriately indicate the sort of movie this is. He’s moulded in the fashion of the scores of war veterans-turned-vigilantes we’ve seen on film over the decades, from Charles Bronson in Death Wish to Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino.
“Forget what you know, forget what you’ve heard,” an opening narration teases. “This is no bedtime story.” With equal presumptuousness, the film ends with the same narrator asking, “Feels like the perfect ending, doesn’t it?” Wrong, on both accounts. Robin Hood, despite being a period piece that features Call of Duty-style action and the rapid-fire editing style of the Jason Bourne movies, feels neither new nor unheard of. And by the time you’ve sat through two hours of its unrelenting nonsense, even an arrow in the shin would seem like a ‘perfect ending’.
The film is set up as an origin story; a tired cinematic trope among wannabe franchise-starters. Rob is a Lord, a Bruce Wayne-like figure in Nottingham, the young heir to a massive fortune. He is drafted into war, where he displays admirable courage, and enviable skills with the bow and arrow. Director Otto Bathurst - a veteran of television shows such as Peaky Blinders and Black Mirror, who’s making his feature debut here - has interpreted the Robin Hood legend as, of all things, an Iraq War parable. And he has elevated the rather archaic bow and arrow to a most formidable weapon. It is one of the rare departments in which the film succeeds - the bow and arrow is used almost like guns are in the John Wick films.
But unlike the action in Keanu Reeves’ movies, most of what happens in Robin Hood is indecipherable, thanks to Bathurst’s headache-inducing editing style, and choppy shot selection. The grimy aesthetic, embellished by random fireballs and obvious greenscreen backgrounds, only makes things worse. And during key sequences, the film slips in and out of the most arbitrary slow-motion you’ll ever have the displeasure of seeing. The action is poorly staged, with little imagination and a very shoddy grasp of visual geography - at no point would you be able to identify, with confident certainty, where everyone is in relation to each other. And I could have sworn at one point a certain character underwent a wardrobe change mid-scene.
When Rob returns home, like Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, he assumes an aristocratic position in the town’s political circle. There he meets the Sheriff, played by the great Ben Mendelsohn.
Mendelsohn, whose gallery of villainous roles includes the weaselly John Daggett in The Dark Knight Rises, the ambitious Orson Krennic in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and the sweaty lowlife Russell in Killing Them Softly, is tragically wasted here. In an ideal world, playing the Sheriff of Nottingham - one of the most legendary fictional villains ever created - should have been a career highlight. But he is shackled to a shockingly poor script, one that reduces his character to the occasional loud outburst here and there, between pointless scenes in which he perfunctorily tries to explain his non-existent motivations.
You can sense that Mendelsohn’s heart isn’t into it when his native Australian accent begins creeping in. Jamie Foxx, however, doesn’t even make an attempt to disguise his American accent as Rob’s mentor-turned-sidekick (what?), Little John. The rest of the cast is equally unenthusiastic. As Maid Marian, Eve Hewson (daughter of Paul, more famously known as Bono) is basically made to prance about in low-cut tops, and do little else. And no, having her say things like ‘Call yourself a man?’ to the villain simply isn’t good enough when two minutes later, it is a man who must come to her rescue.
No one - not even Rob - shows any signs of being a three-dimensional person. The Kingsman movies have shown that Taron Egerton is an engaging actor, and he’s perhaps the only one of the lot (with perhaps Hewson) who’s making any sort of attempt to say his unintentionally hilarious lines with a straight face. The others are just phoning it in.
Robin Hood, in its current state, should not have been made, and its problems begin and end with its script. The man behind it, Ben Chandler, has no other credit to his name, and it shows.
On other occasions, I would come up with fixes, or perhaps pointed out areas in which the film could have been improved. But Robin Hood is beyond saving. Not because it reeks of cynicism - it does - but because it felt that it could get away with this; and that is unforgivable. The last big screen Robin Hood movie was a notorious box office bomb and the source of some quality memes. This one would be lucky to have such a fate.