“Forget what you think you know, this is no bedtime story,” says Tim Minchin’s Friar Tuck in a slightly cringeworthy opening narration which sets up the fact this is like no other iteration of the character you’ve seen. Why do we need another reboot of Robin Hood only eight years after the last? I’m not sure.
Differentiating itself from the serious war drama stylings that drove Ridley Scott’s 2010 Robin Hood, our 2018 version is aiming to be a medieval superhero origin story. Despite being another radical reinterpretation of the character, it contains familiar elements of the Robin Hood story. Robin of Loxley (Taron Egerton) returns from his enlistment in the Crusades only to have his manor ceased by the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn). On top of that, Robin’s girlfriend Marion (Eve Hewson)—who thought Robin died in the Crusades—is now in a relationship Will Scarlett (Jamie Dornan). Alongside mentor John (Jamie Foxx)—an Arabic warrior who lost his son to the English army of the Crusades—Robin trains to become “The Hood” so he can halt the Sheriff’s corrupt schemes and give some power to the oppressed.
Director Otto Bathurst—who’s known works are the pilots for Peaky Blinders and Black Mirror—makes his feature debut in a film, which is frustratingly derivative of better material at every turn, even if it has a sense of dopey fun throughout. Bathurst and writers Ben Chandler and David James Kelly have taken stylistic and narrative inspirations from many sources. Most noticeably, its story takes so much from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy that I wouldn’t be surprised if Chandler and Kelly watched it while they were writing. It heavily relies on the concept of Robin’s dual identities of “Robin of Loxley” and “The Hood”—the former being a young cocksure and charming playboy type, the latter a skilled vigilante with a hidden identity. There’s even a scene where a character says The Hood is his real identity and Robin of Loxley is his disguise, which is lifted straight from Batman Begins. Joseph Trapanese’s score is also eerily similar to Hans Zimmer’s work on the Dark Knight trilogy. A far better Zimmer-like score in 2018 is his protégé Lorne Balfe’s for Mission: Impossible – Fallout.
Its over-stylised direction lifts heavily from Zack Snyder and his use of super slow-mo intercut during action scenes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have great cinematography and is too loaded with choppy editing to back up that frequently used style. Bathurst’s action is most watchable (if derivative) when it relies largely on practical effects. One action scene involving a horse chase is so obviously shot on a green screen that it’s jarring.
It’s a film which also feels like it could’ve benefited from an MA15+ rating. There’s an action sequence in the first act which depicts the Crusades akin to the Iraq War, but due to the M rating Bathurst has to cut around a lot of the gruesomeness which could’ve been effectively shown.
That sequence ties in perfectly with another befuddling element of the film, which is its relationship with historical accuracy. Bathurst said the film isn’t supposed to be historically accurate at all, but it doesn’t commit fully to this. Our actors look like they’re wearing costumes which were picked out from the Gucci store thirty minutes prior to shoot. Jamie Foxx looked like he was wearing a slightly ripped version of one of my H&M pyjama tops at one point! Marion is supposed to be poor, yet she’s wearing glamorous outfits in every scene. I understand why they wanted to modernise elements, but it didn’t add any substance to the proceedings.
Where the film is at its strongest is its awareness that the audience wants to see Robin Hood in action. It doesn’t take long at all for the film to abandon the training element which is summed up in a silly, albeit entertaining, montage. Where something like Batman Begins needed to take a long time to develop the mentor-mentee relationship between Bruce Wayne and Henri Ducardi for dramatic payoff, Robin Hood smartly chooses to not waste time with a bloated origin story.
Egerton is reliably charming in the lead role. He’s essentially doing a riff on his Eggsy character from the Kingsman films, but he’s a likeable presence on screen nonetheless. Jamie Foxx is good as John and has some really solid chemistry with Egerton which keeps their scenes watchable. Eve Hewson and Jamie Dornan are quite flat as Marion and Scarlett respectively. Hewson doesn’t have enough charm to play off Egerton all that well and Dornan’s performance needed a more charismatic actor to sell the character who’s supposed to be “a man of the people”. Many will be divided by Ben Mendelsohn’s performance as the unashamedly evil Sheriff of Nottingham. Mendelsohn gets to deliver rage-fuelled monologues galore and I’d like to think he understands what role he’s playing and what film he’s in. Whether you think his performance is gloriously scene-chewing or painfully one note, it’s weirdly compelling to watch, even though this is the third time in less than two years that Mendelsohn has played a similarly written blockbuster villain. Hopefully his schtick doesn’t get too familiar in next year’s Captain Marvel.
Egerton said this is a Robin Hood which is designed to appeal to a superhero-loving audience. What he, the creative team and Lionsgate don’t understand is that superhero fans don’t want to watch something which is like a superhero film, they want to watch superhero films with, you guessed it, superheroes! Even though the public didn’t ask for a new Robin Hood we got one anyway, and don’t you worry, they set up a sequel (which we’re never going to get).
While there’s some goofy entertainment to be had throughout, mostly thanks to Egerton and Foxx’s mere watchability, it just feels too derivative of better films and visual styles which have been copied numerous times. I guess we’ll just have to wait for Disney’s reboot with a CGI fox.
Robin Hood is out in select Perth theatres now.