'Robin Hood': Film Review

Robin in a hoodie.
11/21/2018

Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx and Ben Mendelsohn lead the cast in the latest big-screen iteration of the classic adventure story.

Guy Ritchie's idiotic, leathered-up, fancy-weaponed take on King Arthur worked out so wonderfully for all involved last year ($149 million worldwide box office on a $175 million budget) that someone still evidently thought it would be a good idea to apply the same preposterous modernized armaments, trendy wardrobe and machine-gun style to perennial screen favorite Robin Hood.

Well, it's turned out even worse than anyone could have imagined in this all-time big-screen low for Robin, Marian, Friar Tuck, Guy of Gisbourne and the Sheriff of Nottingham, not to mention for Jamie Foxx as an angry man from the Middle East who's gotten mixed up on the wrong side of a Crusade, or maybe just in the wrong movie. Leonardo DiCaprio can rest easy in the knowledge that this fiasco will come and go so quickly that few will remember that it even existed, much less that he produced it. In a just world, everyone involved in this mess would be required to perform some sort of public penance.

“I would tell you what year it is, but ... I can't remember,” Robin (Taron Egerton of the Kingsman films) utters at the outset, thus liberating this video-gamey film from any obligation to period verisimilitude and freeing the title character to sport what resembles a very expensive modern ski parka. There is a throwaway line about the depicted conflict being set during the third crusade, which was at the end of the 12th century, but from the look of the sets we seem to be in a designer mall in contemporary London.

This first produced exertion at a screenplay by Ben Chandler and David James Kelly pivots on the perennially sympathetic efforts by Robin and his band of jolly misfits to relieve the common folk of the rapacious oppression of the nasty Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn), whose domain here resembles a sprawling working-class city during the industrial revolution.

Called up for military service in Arabia, Robin learns how to become a lighter-than-air human archery machine gun, shooting and then reloading in a second's time, as well as how to fire while floating through the air in slow motion. Never does Robin miss his target, but he does get hit once, which gets him shipped back home to find that his land has been seized. Foxx's fierce soldier has stowed away and turns up in middle England, too, changes his name from Yahya to John and reassures Robin that, “You're only powerless if you believe you're powerless.” That's reassuring.

Fired up by such inspiration, Robin pretends to cozy up to the sheriff while gathering his forces, who, including the normally amusing Friar Tuck, provide none of the supporting character comic relief that these roles are supposed to supply. On the opposing side, Mendelsohn similarly offers no trace of the villain-you-love-to-hate pleasure that ideally comes with such roles, and certainly did when Basil Rathbone dueled so memorably with Errol Flynn lo these many years ago.

So from the evidence it must be assumed this film has forsworn, and arguably sneered at, the sort of delight that has heretofore been associated with Robin Hood and his brethren onscreen, all the way from Douglas Fairbanks 96 years ago to Errol Flynn, Sean Connery, Kevin Costner and even Mel Brooks along with many, many others (perhaps not so much a paunchy Russell Crowe a few seasons back). The only way to read this kind of arrogant dismissal of past pleasures is that the current filmmakers think they know better, that kids today want something fast and furious and senseless and don't care about the old jolly but musty stuff. This may be true to a certain extent, but it doesn't prevent the public from smelling a rat when it really and truly is stinking up the joint.

The action here is too phony and mechanically cranked up to believe that anything is on the line. Mendelsohn's villain is boringly one-note, Eve Hewson's Marion uses an incongruous Yank accent and always looks as though she's just stepped out of the makeup trailer, F. Murray Abraham swans around in fancy cardinal's vestments looking sinister and Foxx seems pissed off that he's not somewhere, perhaps anywhere, else. As for Egerton, he's a boy doing a man's job.

First-time feature director Otto Bathurst won his stripes with the (in)famous first episode of Black Mirror, “The National Anthem,” in which a British prime minister is blackmailed into having sex with a pig on national television, and went on from there to launch Peaky Blinders. He's had no such beginner's luck with his feature debut, so the sooner he leaves it behind the better. And it's fair warning to anyone else thinking of using mid-career Guy Ritchie as a stylistic role model.

Production companies: Appian Way, Safehouse Pictures
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Paul Anderson, Tim Minchin, F. Murray Abraham, Jamie Dornan
Director: Otto Bathurst
Screenwriters: Ben Chandler, David James Kelly, story by Ben Chandler
Producers: Jennifer Davisson, Leonard DiCpario
Executive producers: Tory Tunnell, Joby Harold, Basil Iwanyk, E.Bennett Walsh, Ed McDonald
Director of photography: George Steel
Production designer: Jean-Vincent Puzos
Costume designer: Julian Day
Editor: Joe Hutshing, Chris Barwell
Music: Joseph Trapanese
Visual effects supervisor: Simon Stanley-Clamp
Casting: Ronna Kress, Deborah Aquila, Tricia Wood

Rated PG-13, 116 minutes