May 2024

Robin Hood (2018)

DIRECTOR: Otto Bathurst

CAST: Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Jamie Dornan, Tim Minchin, Paul Anderson, F. Murray Abraham


Much like Lex Luthor, who should not be as difficult to adapt to screen as he has often seemed to be, Hollywood has had a hard time coming up with a good rendition of what should be as simple and straightforward as the legend of Robin Hood.  1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves had its charms, but marred by a whiplashy tone and a miscast Kevin Costner.  Ridley Scott’s 2010 “reimagining” tried to turn it into a Braveheartesque epic historical drama at the expense of jettisoning any sense of fun.  Unfortunately, Otto Bathurst’s latest rendition of the oft-told tale has gone to the opposite extreme, a generic action flick, watchable in the moment but forgettable and disposable in the way a dime a dozen generic action flicks are.  Panned by critics and making only $51 million against a $100 million budget, the latest telling of “The Hood” is as destined for the dust bin as last year’s King Arthur.

We open with an extraneous and undeservedly self-congratulatory narration—the first in an orgy of evidence of the movie’s entitled sense of its own non-existent coolness—telling us to “forget what you think you know”.  This is a rather odd statement, as what follows neither does anything radically different from the typical Robin Hood story nor adds anything special.  Young lord Robin of Locksley (Taron Egerton) is torn away from his privileged life and whirlwind romance with Marian (Eve Hewson) when he’s drafted for the Crusades in distant Arabia.  Four years later, a disillusioned Robin returns home to find his manor seized and sacked and Marian on the arm of a new man, rabble-rouser Will Scarlet (Jamie Dornan).  Realizing the corrupt, tyrannical Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn, being exactly what you’d expect from him) is crushing the peasants under his thumb and looting the city to the bone to fund the war effort, Robin forms an unlikely alliance with a former enemy, the Moorish warrior Little John (Jamie Foxx), who is seeking revenge for his own losses.  John trains Robin to become the masked thief “The Hood”, looting the Sheriff’s toll booths and money trains and stoking the flames of rebellion.

Robin Hood isn’t the worst thing ever; it’s fast-paced, watchable, and moderately engaging, but like all this kind of generic action flick, it’s terminally “meh” and disposable and doesn’t linger in the memory five minutes outside the theater.  Nothing stands out, not the unmemorable attempts at one-liners—frequently awkwardly anachronistic and modern—nor the clumsily-choreographed action, and the movie can’t seem to make up its mind what time period it’s transpiring in.  We’re ostensibly in a period-accurate setting, but an opening Crusades battle scene looks and feels like it’s in modern-day Afghanistan (complete with an Arab sniper wielding a mounted weapon that launches volleys of arrows like a machine gun).  Ben Mendelsohn’s Sheriff looks like a sci-fi villain (not that far removed from Mendelsohn’s Director Krennic in Rogue One), and Eve Hewson’s Marian (the “Maid” is left out) looks and dresses like a modern-day model and acts more 2018 than medieval.  A decadent, orgiastic party at the Sheriff’s palace looks like a scene out of a Lady Gaga music video.  The Robin/Marian/Will love triangle is so underdeveloped as to amount to nothing, as is the Sheriff’s flimsy scheme with the Cardinal of Rome (F. Murray Abraham) to broker treasonous arms sales to the very “enemy” they’re funding the Crusades against.  And if one detects a whiff of contemporary political commentary in the “collusion” taking place, it doesn’t end there.  The phrase “redistribution of wealth” is dropped verbatim, like we’re watching a Bernie Sanders rally/Occupy Wall Street protest—the Sheriff, by contrast, delivers a rather Trumpian speech fear-mongering about the encroaching foreign hordes—and an anti-church vein runs through the movie; the clergy are all evil except Friar Tuck, and this version switches the Sheriff’s master from the usual Prince John to the Cardinal of Rome.  Amusingly, the movie leaves off with a “to be continued” style open ending, as if to suggest it’s launching a franchise, but in the wake of its box office flop, it’s unlikely this cast and crew will ever return to Nottingham.

Taron Egerton is attractive and charismatic and perhaps could have made a decent fledgling Robin Hood, but his bland material here reduces his version to a paper-thin generic action hero.  For the former Kingsman star, this is unlikely to propel him into another action franchise.  Jamie Foxx is likewise the standard-issue hard-ass mentor—the generic and obligatory “training montage” is whisked through in perfunctory fashion—while Eve Hewson is the generic love interest (who looks and acts far more at home in 2018 than an ostensibly medieval English village).  Jamie Dornan’s Will Scarlet is relegated to a superfluous “third wheel” in an unnecessary love triangle subplot.  Meanwhile, were it not for his portrayal of stuttering King George VI opposite Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill in last year’s Darkest Hour, I would not give Ben Mendelsohn credit for possessing any range whatsoever.  Mendelsohn continues here with another of his repetitive one-note entries as Hollywood’s latest go-to “bad guy” actor—a while back this role would probably have been cast with Rufus Sewell—as a Sheriff of Nottingham whose name might as well be Daggett (The Dark Knight Rises), Krennic (Rogue One), or Sorrento (Ready Player One), because Mendelsohn plays them all the same and they’re all basically interchangeable.  Try as he might with all his snarling, screaming, and spittle-spewing, Mendelsohn’s Sheriff isn’t nearly as memorable as Alan Rickman’s version (which, as over-the-top and campy as it may have been, is the part of the 1991 movie remembered the most fondly).  Tim Minchin’s Friar Tuck is what passes for a “comic relief” sidekick, Paul Anderson’s Guy of Gisborne is a standard-issue henchman type, and F. Murray Abraham is the behind-the-scenes “big bad” as the Sheriff’s master the Cardinal of Rome.

The plot is twisty in a predictable way, the action is predictably if generically explosive, and the sought-after exhilaration is virtually nonexistent.  The brisk hour and fifty-six minute runtime feels rushed, but at least it doesn’t overstay its modest welcome.  Undemanding action fans in search of a fleeting diversion might find Robin Hood adequate entertainment, but it’s as unlikely to linger strongly in the memory as it is to launch the franchise it clearly aspires toward.

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