WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for Otto Bathurst's Robin Hood, in theaters now.
Otto Bathurst's new take on Robin Hood tries to differentiate the eponymous hero from past efforts by ensuring his origin is totally unique compared to all other versions. This journey sees him evolve from a regretful soldier in the Christian Crusades to the vigilante called the "The Hood."
It's one of the few aspects of the narrative that actually works in the movie, and in retrospect, likewise character development should have been applied to give us an origin story focusing not just on Robin (Taron Egerton) alone, but also his Merry Men.
Bathurst really did try to give us depth to these characters helping the poor people of Nottingham. While the execution may have been off, the intent was there and it's because we all know proper character studies resonate. Now, in 1991's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the Merry Men already existed when Kevin Costner's archer met them, and in Ridley Scott's 2010 reboot, they were already soldiers fighting with the titular hero. But all they ever truly felt like were bit part players.
An in-depth story about the Merry Men as they first form would have been a much better approach, because it would have achieved what Bathurst wanted: To freshen up the franchise with new perspectives. So far, all Robin Hood stories feel the same in terms of regurgitated tales revolving around the archer, but a Merry Men origin film would have distanced itself from such tunnel-vision storytelling.
It's no secret, after all, Hollywood loves brotherhood stories, such as Lord of the Rings or the Ocean's 11 franchise. But what made them work was how everyone came together to fight for a bigger cause. Even the Avengers franchise adopted a similar approach, not rushing to throw its band of heroes together against the big villain in Thanos. Patience is key in universe-building and you have to ensure your foundation is solid, which is why a recruitment story featuring the wily trickster Alan-a-Dale, the culinary master called the Cook, the genius Tinker or the virtuous Ranger (a la LotR's Aragorn) would have offered a new and fun dynamic. We'd have a diverse array of characters on tap, as well as a shot at creating better chemistry with all these outlaws.
The proof even exists within Bathurst's movie, as we get an origin story for John (Jaime Foxx); a Moor (mixing in Morgan Freeman's Azeem from Prince of Thieves) who wants revenge for the atrocities the English committed against his people. Thus, it makes sense why he trains Robin, giving us an emotional connection to them. This also occurs with Friar Tuck (Tim Minchin), as he uses religion as a cover to dig up political secrets about the Sheriff, shedding insight into why he wants anarchy. It's the only way to liberation and true salvation, especially as the Church he once trusted worships nothing but money.
Had this been done to flesh out the entirety of Robin's vigilante crew, all the players on the board would have been well-established as kindred spirits. And so, it would feel organic watching the likes of Tuck going undercover to infiltrate the Sheriff's system. By also placing the origin of the Merry Men in the foreground, the myth of the Sheriff is given room to properly build up in the background, making his inevitable war all the more intimidating.
Instead, Bathurst churned out something derivative instead of unique. That could have been corrected by illustrating the doubts and suspicions of the Merry Men surrounding Robin as leader, testing them as they transition from a movement into a symbol. Sadly, as it stands, we're left wondering what could have been in the wake of yet another typical, boring and highly predictable story.
In theaters now, 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.