Returning from the crusades, Robin Earl of Loxley (Taron Edgerton) finds that his home has been seized by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendlesohn) and his beloved Marion (Eve Hewson) is now in the arms of another man (Jamie Doornan). Swearing vengeance and schooled by his Moorish accomplice Yasha (Jamie Foxx), will Robin be able to save Nottingham from the Sheriff’s despotic rule?
…Where ‘Robin Hood’ does surprise is in its deviations from previous films.
In this latest take on the lore of Robin Hood, Director Otto Bathurst delivers a shamelessly entertaining tale which is high on octane and low on historical accuracy. Underpinned by a surprisingly cogent story and interesting post-modern references, his Robin Hood isn’t necessarily the cart crash other reviewers have painted it as. The dialogue is leaden, Tim Minchin’s friar Tuck is a poor man’s Bill Bailey and the gender politics are hard to define with the wholesale absence of any female characters on screen, save for token laughing and screaming purposes.
Where ‘Robin Hood’ does surprise is in its deviations from previous films. Whilst resolutely still a period piece, Robin’s crusade experiences resemble the Iraq war, where nobility is scare and atrocities are commonplace. Recoiling from the religious genocide he’s been implicated in, Taron Egerton’s Robin returns to find Nottingham (the financial power house behind the crusades) in the thrall of a fascistic Sheriff who conflates racial hatred with patriotism -Sounding familiar?
Ok. So far, so good.
The Sheriff here is played with dependable menace by Ben Mendlesohn, who leaves no piece of scenery un-chewed in a decent enough performance. Neither hammy, nor dry, Mendlesohn manages to articulate the Sheriff’s lust for power within the childhood seeds of tragedy, and in doing so, reminds what this great thespian can do with a few decent lines. Jamie Foxx as also brings an articulate Yasha / “John” to the screen. Rich with modern subtext, both he and Mendlesohn frame the political polarities of the invader and the invaded. However set between these two stoical stones is Taron Egerton’s Robin. Still sporting the same, strained London vowels from his Kingsman films, his performance is a cockney rough diamond hewn out of a Guy Ritchie picture, and fortunately this isn’t quite ‘that’ Guy Ritchie picture.
Mercifully neither as dire as ‘King Arthur’ or as dull as the meanderingly meaningless the Ridley Scott ‘Robin Hood’, it’s a shame to see this historical action-er skewered by its own need to please. Departing from its solid back story, instead it indulges in clattering carnage, characters blessed with healable spines and the unwelcome return of a teal and orange colour palette. The net result is that you are saddled with a tale where Maid Marion looks the part but never really gets to take part and Robin’s emotional range never grazes your affections.
In the end, neither the disappointment it’s reported as, nor the reimagining it could have been, Bathurst’s swords and arrows epic is a mixed quiver of influences and ambitions. Ultimately resting its sword against the play-it-safe ‘epic playbook’, it fires its one last arrow at an ambiguous ending, possibly hinting at either a sequel or an opening ending. By committing to neither, the last scene fumbles the convictions the first act sought to carry, and in so doing, takes with it the film itself.
Whilst not the flame to light a franchise fire, some of its embers will entertain until the next, hooded man steps out of Sherwood forest.