“Forget history,” we’re told during the opening narration of this latest attempt to reinvent one of England’s richest legends. “Forget what you think you know.” It feels like less of a demand than it does a plea. Because if you even start to think about Otto Bathurst’s Robin Hood in terms of historical viability, it crumbles quicker than a sandcastle in a rainstorm.
The Third Crusade of the late 12th century is portrayed as a kind of proto-Iraq War, with soldiers such as Taron Egerton’s Robin of Loxley waging urban, guerrilla warfare in breastplates that look like flak jackets. Nottingham, meanwhile, is recast as an industrial mining hellhole where fire constantly belches into the air — rather like 1919 Birmingham, which was stylishly recreated under Bathurst’s direction for the first three episodes of Peaky Blinders.
Egerton does his valiant best, but nothing else really hangs together.
To be fair, when you’re dealing with something as culturally ingrained and cliché-ridden as Robin Hood you might as well go for something fresh, and go for broke. But for all its stylistic ambition, and its efforts to reference modern concerns (the Sheriff of Nottingham’s anti-Islamic invective), Robin Hood misfires thanks to a crucial absence of internal logic. This world just doesn’t work.
It’s set around a huge mine, but we never see what it actually produces. Gold? Iron? Er… Coal? Ben Mendelsohn’s Sheriff, the latest in a run of smoothly preened evil-executive types for the Aussie actor, behaves like a president seeking re-election rather than a feudal-era autocrat, demogoguing to crowds who can’t even vote. And after Robin becomes a Batman-esque outlaw known as ‘The Hood’, he fosters a Bruce Wayne-ish daytime persona, impressing everyone by tossing gold coins around — despite having just been revealed as losing everything after returning from the crusade. That his mentor, John (Jamie Foxx), is a Moor who’s somehow familiar with the inner workings of the English political and economic system despite just arriving in the country only adds to the preposterousness of it all.
Egerton does his valiant best, giving Robin a callow, inverse Eggsy-from-Kingsman likeability, and Bathurst’s earthy-but-slick, Peaky-honed style works for the action scenes, of which there are many — usually involving Egerton slo-mo twirling through the air and firing off multiple arrows at once like a 12th-century Hawkeye. But nothing else really hangs together. Eve Hewson’s Marian (the only named female character in the entire film, hmm) goes from plucky to passive to outright damsel in a few swift mis-steps. Mendelsohn seems almost bored now of shouting at underlings in big, polished rooms. And Foxx is criminally wasted in sidekick role that requires little more of him than the aforementioned exposition and a bit of training-montage shouting.
The ending (owing much to Ridley Scott’s 2010 movie of the same title) suggests a sequel. To be honest, we’d rather see Disney redo its version of the legend with live-action foxes. Now that would be an interesting take.