Director Otto Bathurst's Robin Hood fails on so many levels that, after a while, you stop believing it's a movie. It's not a good Robin Hood tale; it's not a good heist story; it's not a good romance; and it's not a good political allegory. The world could certainly use another People's Hero, just not this one.
Despite an introduction that purports to tell the real Robin Hood story, this reimagining of the legendary outlaw follows the same basic path carved out by most previous film adaptations. The young lord of Loxley manor is sitting pretty in his privilege until he goes off to fight in the Crusades. When he returns home from the wars, he finds the Powers That Be in Nottingham have seized his estate and are persecuting the common folk. So, Loxley becomes an outlaw to overthrow the sheriff, the Catholic Church, Guy of Gisbourne and whoever else might be trying to usurp the throne of the absent King Richard, not to mention romancing Marian of House Who Knows? at the same time.
It opens with a pointless voiceover that reasons the legend of Robin Hood wouldn't be a legend if it had just been about some dude stealing paltry sums from the rich and giving to the poor. Instead, we're informed, the real story involved something far more significant -- and then the movie tells us about a some dude stealing fairly large sums from the rich and giving to the poor. Taron Egerton's Robin of Loxley comes home from the Crusades to discover the Sheriff of Nottingham has bankrupted the town on the pretense of collecting taxes for the war effort. Robin begins palling around with Jamie Foxx's John, who's a combination of the traditional Little John and Azeem from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. After the one-handed John teaches Loxley how to shoot several arrows per second from a bow he unironically refers to as a "street weapon," the two decide to take down the sheriff.
They employ the origin stories of several superheroes to do so, but Batman is the most prevalent, as Robin pretends by day to be a society boy come home to Nottingham, and then at night dons his hood and bow to steal from the sheriff. His socialite subplot does allow the audience to get to know the ever-nameless Sheriff of Nottingham, who has yet to appear in a movie that didn't make him a heartless villain. Ben Mendelsohn literally cannot fail at acting, so he manages to give the embattled civil servant a soul, but not enough of one to elevate the narrative beyond the mess it fights so hard to be.
We say that because this Robin Hood blows even the easy wins -- the Robin and Marian storyline is an enduring romance that could've played well to a modern audience given the film's treatment of Marian (Eve Hewson) as an independent woman who genuinely cares for her community. But instead her romance with Loxley is distilled to a parody of itself featuring two actors who can't express anything more than stirred interest when their supposedly love-struck characters reunite after two years. The relationship between Loxley and John provides some mildly interesting buddy humor, but it's so predictable and one-note that it becomes stale before the movie is half over. And at some point someone decided this was a Robin Hood and His Merry Men origin story, so the familiar cast of supporting characters is reduced to bland versions of Friar Tuck (Tim Minchin) and Will Scarlet (Jamie Dornan).
And if all that weren't there to turn off viewers, the film tries very, very hard to be a story about a government waging an unjust war, and then spreading fear among the commoners in order to fund that conflict with taxes. It fails miserably on this front by leaning heavily on anachronistic production design in an effort to drive home the idea that the film is -- wait for it! -- an allegory for what's happening in the world today.
Nottingham is funded by mines that didn't exist in England at that time, and populated by people who wear American Apparel beanies and glasses and visit buildings made of concrete. A Knight's Tale made those kinds of anachronisms work because it was steeped in the actual history surrounding jousting and classism in the Middle Ages. But Robin Hood just really wants to show you what a wagon chase/arrow shootout in an industrial yard would look like. It's simply another action movie desperately hoping to spawn a franchise, despite doing nothing to justify one.
Opening today nationwide, Robin Hood stars Taron Egerton as Robin, Jamie Foxx as Little John, Eve Hewson as Maid Marian, Ben Mendelsohn as the Sheriff of Nottingham, Tim Minchin as Friar Tuck, Jamie Dornan as Will Scarlet, Paul Anderson as Guy of Gisborne, Josh Herdman as Righteous, and Bjorn Bengtsson as Tydon.