Director: Otto Bathurst
Screenplay: Ben Chandler, David James Kelly
Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Tim Minchin, Jamie Dornan
Runtime: 116 Minutes
To date, there have been somewhere in the vicinity of 112 feature films based on the English folklore tale of Robin Hood, the last major release being in 2010. The sheer frequency of these adaptations is enough to numb even the least demanding cinemagoer to the well-known tale of the heroic outlaw, but with each new version comes its own interpretation of events to varying degrees of success.
Robin Hood 2018 was originally produced under the title of Robin Hood: Origins, so take that for what it means in terms of what it’s producers really think its franchise potential might be. But more baffling than that is the fact that the genre it is looking to ape the most in order to reach for a contemporary retelling of events is the superhero genre, more specifically Batman Begins.
Yes, this is Robin Hood (Taron Egerton) retold as what one can only assume the producers and makers feel is their gambit at a Marvel film, but fed through the trappings of the modern superhero genre through action sequences, narrative tropes, multiple converging plot threads and a post-modern approach to certain aspects that the film seems too proud of – and yet comes across as one of the most embarrassingly inept and laughably silly blockbuster attempts of the entire year.
Robin Hood is bad, anyone could have told you that from the outset – from its lacklustre marketing material to having little interest in selling itself as anything more than another adaptation with a new – but its so fascinatingly bad at points as to almost make it enjoyable in the levels of dumb that it manages to mine.
The attempt by the filmmakers to recontextualise their own version of the story, with elements acting as allegorical stand-ins for contemporary topics and talking points, so unfocused and matter of fact (“Who’s up for a little wealth redistribution?”) that its gambits fall face down at every turn. So what we have is a film that wants to be a film about things, with metaphors for military-industrial conspiracy, PTSD, the Iraq conflict, The IROS, WV miners, police brutality and balaclava-clad rioters and even fucking Antifa with little to no cohesion to link any of these elements beyond them simply being there and that should apparently be enough.
For instance, the surfs are subjecting to mining duties in a separate part of Nottingham covered in a constant sight of black suffocating smoke and burning flames (yes, really), and yet at no point are we ever told exactly what they are mining beyond that’s what they’re doing and audiences recognise the representation of a dilapidated labour force and that should be enough to elicit empathy.
When Robin gets sent away (drafted) to Arabia, the film transforms into an unintentionally hilarious aping of Black Hawk Down recreated with bow and arrows, with characters clad in desert camouflage Kevlar and a moment where an Arab uses the medieval equivalent of a rocket launcher with 20 arrows in it. There’s a party at the villain's castle that looks like it was shot in Vegas, complete with actual roulette tables and dice and guests in catwalk fashion wear.
The film is stocked and loaded with upfront anachronisms like this, and obscenely overdesigned costumes that look way too distractingly modern given the more realistic period setting environments. From Marion (Eve Hewson) wearing what look like black leather jacket, to Robin’s padded hoodie that look like they were made in a modern sweatshop, although it looks nowhere near as silly as Ben Mendelsohn’s Sheriff of Nottingham sauntering about in a glowing white trench coat that looks like it was designed by Hugo Boss.
Taron Egerton is a promising young actor, but he keeps wasting his talents on properties like this and you hope that he’s saving up to make the worlds best art film after he’s done collecting paychecks. Jamie Foxx is just kind of there as a reimagined Little John who is also an Arabian war refugee because topical, and he acts like a mixture of Alfred Pennyworth and Q to Robin.
Mendelsohn is probably sick of being cast in these villainous roles by Hollywood, but there’s a reason he keeps getting cast in them and he’s ridiculously devilish and entertaining to watch at points. Tim Minchin is decent enough as Friar Tuck, Jamie Dornan gets a lot of build up for a twist that can be seen coming a mile off, and while Eve Hewson as proves herself as a competent and proactive Marian, nearly every costume she wears is weirdly revealing even for a film this content to rewrite the rules of the story we think we know.
Robin Hood is absolute pants, a dead-on-arrival franchise starter with little potential to carry that through. It’s a checklist of conventions, expectations and little more other than the confusion it will cause as it tries to graft a modern meaning onto this age-old story while only pulling half the weight required to do so.