Robin Hood comes in arrows blazing for a solid thirty minutes. After a light prelude introducing Rob of Loxley (Taron Egerton) and horse thief Marian (Eve Hewson) as lovers, it sweeps into action. Rob receives his conscription papers from the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) and immediately ships off to the Crusades where he witnesses startling brutality against the Saracens at the hands of his commander, Gisborne (Paul Anderson). When a botched attempt at heroism goes awry, he is shipped back home, except it’s a home he no longer recognizes. His estate has been ransacked, the people have been driven to a neighboring mining town, and the Sheriff has consolidated his power. What’s a young lord to do?
Rob of course. But lest you think this is a tale of hardscrabble bandits pinching pennies from nobles and retreating into the woods, director Otto Bathurst is here to tell you otherwise. This is not Errol Flynn and there are no men in tights. Instead, Robin Hood is a pounding origin story, one that throws together elements of a war film and a heist thriller with occasional nods to medieval England. It seeks to speak to the times, not unlike every other Robin Hood remake, and so borrows from a visual language today’s audiences know well. The most striking example of this is the opening dogfight between the English and the Saracens, a scene that one could easily mistake from a contemporary war movie. There’s nary a tunic nor cut of chainmail in sight. Instead, camouflaged leather uniforms double as arrow-proof vests, though surely nothing can be effective against the bump stocks on those Saracen bows.
It’s the Crusades as you’ve never seen them before, which is to say something along the lines of dystopian medieval steampunk? The film’s style is hard to pin down since it’s all over the place, but frankly, it matters less what look they’re going for and more that the rest of the movie doesn’t match the art department’s early ambition. The second and third acts are punctuated by plenty of flying arrows and explosions but lack defining moments and a good handle on plot. Rob, under the tutelage of his wartime enemy Yahya (Jamie Foxx in a somewhat magical role), lazily Anglicized to “John,” gains increasing favor with the Sheriff all the while staging bigger and bolder heists on the wartime coffers. His efforts are thwarted, however, by something involving the Church, machinations I didn’t care enough about to sort out.
The relationship between Rob and Marian also isn’t enough to set the story alight. Egerton and Hewson, dedicated as they are, have the look of kids playing at love, and their characters’ romance takes a high school turn when Will (Jamie Dornan) replaces Rob by Marian’s side after his reported death in the Crusades. They settle on an uneasy truce because they’re fighting against a common enemy though maybe not for the same cause. If the writers really wanted to shake things up, they should have made Will the main character. As an aspiring politician, he’s far more interesting and conflicted, but poor Jamie Dornan and his beautiful accent are relegated to lots of scowls and inaudible grunts in dark corners.
The filmmakers also leave the movie’s social political commentary half-formed. The Sheriff is a recognizable authoritarian figure, lifting words and ideas from right wing texts of today. Cloaked in a resplendent overcoat and perched high above the masses, he booms about “barbarians in Arabia [who] hate us, our freedom, our culture, our religion.” The Sheriff’s remedy is a war tax levied on the poor so that they can defend the homes and jobs they no longer have against foreign invaders who just want you to stop killing their kids in their own land. The comparison is at once obvious, cliché, and fair, but it also gets lost in the fury of action and never rises to a powerful indictment of the times that we need. The early condemnations about foreign wars being yet one more way for the rich to steal from the poor should be the overriding message and might have been had it not been blown to smithereens alongside the coin vaults and getaway carriages.
Prod: Jennifer Davisson, Leonardo DiCaprio
Dir: Otto Bathurst
Writer: Ben Chandler, David James Kelly
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Tim Minchin, Jamie Dornan, Paul Anderson, F. Murray Abraham
Time: 116 min
Country: United States