Dumb movies can be fun, but that doesn’t make them good. Take the new, revisionist Robin Hood. It sure is fun at times, but this excitement and levity cannot save the movie from itself.
Though the opening voiceover, we’re told that this is not our mother’s version of the thief/philanthropist Robin. We’re told twice that history should be forgotten and we should just let this story do its own thing. That transparency is a welcome point of honesty in a film that serves are a loose retelling of the classic Robin Hood tale.
In this Robin Hood, Robin (Taron Egerton) is drafted into the Crusades by the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn). The timing could not be worse. Robin’s love with Marian (Eve Hewson) is at its height of saccharine sweetness, and they have everything they need in the world right now. But off to war Rob goes (yes, Marian calls him “Rob”) and his life falls apart from there.
Robin spends four years in Arabia fighting on behalf of England and the Church. The film makes the bold choice to mirror the aesthetics of our current, contemporary wars in the Middle East. These soldiers wear what look like modern desert camouflage and black tactical vests. On closer inspection, they can be understood to be of the era, with leather shingles instead of Kevlar, but the intention is clearly to make a visual and thematic comparison between the Crusades and our modern wars. This sartorial leeway is also taken with the rest of the costumes throughout the movie, and it serves to support the opening voiceover’s insistence that we not apply history or facts to this version of Robin Hood.
After his years at war, Robin returns to Nottingham to find that he has lost nearly everything. The sheriff has seized his estate, and Marian has been shipped off to the mines where she’s fallen in love with another man. The sheriff has also been ruling the land with an iron fist, and is only getting worse. He’s making the townsfolk fund his war efforts and is bleeding every penny he can out of these already impoverished people. What can a guy like Robin do?
Well, Robin was followed home from war by Little John (Jamie Foxx). They were foes on the front lines, but John recognized that Robin was one of the good guys and decided to track him home and talk him into working against the powers funding the war. After Robin inevitably agrees to help stick it to Nottingham, we get treated to a training montage where John whips Robin into proper, vigilante shape. That’s right, after being an exemplary soldier for four years, Robin needed a training montage.
To cover his back, John also talks Robin into concealing his identity while he’s out robbing the rich and giving to the poor. This leads Robin into a Bruce Wayne/Batman double life. To keep the plan moving, no one can know about it, not even his oldest friend, Friar Tuck (Tim Minchin).
One of the more annoying things about this Robin Hood is the drawn-out name-dropping and winks to the original story. It takes nearly an hour for Robin to say this Friar’s name is Tuck, and the film’s editing then gives us a beat to react in awe of the admission, as if it were a Stan Lee cameo. The same thing happens with Will Scarlet (Jamie Dornan) in a much later scene. Even as they head into the forest, we’re just waiting for them to say “Sherwood” because we know it’s coming. These predictable reveals throughout the film are not nearly as clever as the filmmakers seem to think they are, and there are enough of them to become tedious.
This is not to mention all of the drawn-out and very specific political and economical discussions. One should never accuse this film of being confusing or rushing the plot points, because far too much time is spent on hashing out precisely where the money comes from, where it’s going, and who gains from the transaction. This is a pity because it keeps Robin Hood from being the swift and silly action flick it occasionally pretends to be.
When Robin Hood focuses on Robin’s heists and getaways, it’s actually a blast. Egerton has established himself as a cocky and smooth action star, and his hooded roll here is no exception to that. With Foxx supporting him through his capers by blowing things up and driving the escape horsecart, the two of them are unstoppable. The fight choreography and chases through the narrow medieval streets are the shining beacon of entertainment in the film, and thankfully they’re bountiful.
Had Robin Hood focused solely on being a dumb, fun action film, it would be a great time at the movies. However, its insistence on being clever and exhaustive distract from any potential frivolity and mindlessness.