I’m torn. Robin Hood is in no way a good movie. It cribs and mashes together every popular trend. Mere seconds into Otto Bathurst’s Robin hood the narrator tells us, “I’d tell you the history-but you wouldn’t listen.” Yet, it’s never boring, always amusing, and utterly aware of its own anachronistic decisions. In other words, it’s about medieval as my big toe.
From the first scene, we see a woman sneak into a stable through a window. She’s wearing a mask, and as we think how novel and wonderful it would be to have a Robin Hood who is Maid Marian by day, she turns to face the camera and we see her in a mesh top. Mesh tops were not fashionable during Robin’s time unless I’m wrong. I’m often wrong. The characters in Robin Hood stomp around in designer jackets, leather pants, and low cut bodices with a jacket over them.
Ben Chandler and David James Kelly have written a script inspired by buddy cop action movies, superhero franchises, and a drunk’s guide to history. Robin Hood is known as “the Hood”, Robin is known as “Rob”, and there’s a horse chase scene among the rooftops. It’s less a script than it is Mad Libs gone off the rails.
Marian (Eve Hewson), is caught by the Lord of the Manor, Robin (Taran Egerton). Of course, they flirt until Robin is drafted into the Crusades. I’m not being facetious, he gets a giant letter with “Draft Notice” inked atop the parchment and everything. It’s even signed by the Sherrif of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn).
Look, I could tell you the plot but it wouldn’t matter. If you’ve seen one Robin Hood movie you’ve seen them all. Bathurst merely tells the story as if it were an 80’s action movie. Instead of a factory that produces nothing but chains, sparks, and fire, we have the mines who produce nothing but chains, sparks, and fire. Robin meets John (Jamie Fox) while over in Persia fighting the crusades. Their relationship evolves from antagonistic to buddy vigilantes. They even have a scene where the two have to outrun a giant falling pot of boiling smelt.
Bathurst knows he has a stinker and credit where credit is due he cast Robin Hood perfectly. Egerton has the charisma to pull it off the spoiled man-child who becomes the brooding manchild. Foxx brings a wonderful sense of gravitas and over the top grimness to the role of John. Mendelsohn is reaching Shakespearean heights as he growls and mutters his way through the scenes.
The beauty of Robin Hood is how thorough its stupidity is. While in battle John loses his hand. During one of the training montages, we see John shove his hand into a metal sleeve sticking out of a melting pot. His head rears back as he lets loose a howl of agony. Now if you’re like me, you’re thinking ah, he’s made himself an artificial limb. He pulls his hand out to reveal…a stump. He crafted a metal stump and then permanently welded it to his amputated arm.
The arrows behave strangely like bullets; replete with the sound effects of lead balls hitting metal. Even the scenes in the crusades are shot as if they were in modern-day Afghanistan. With their short sleeve, light beige uniforms, chainmail fashioned to look like flak jackets, and the whipping and zooming camera. You think I’m exaggerating about how they treat bows and arrows like bullets but I’m not. The Persians have a mechanical bow and arrow that fires multiple arrows at a time.
In another training montage, John hands Robin a black bow. “Here, use this, it’s made for the streets. You can knock an arrow on both sides.”
Still, in all its idiocy Robin Hood does have its moments. Hewson’s Marian is initially portrayed as merely the doe-eyed love interest, who Robin must ignore, lest he forgets his mission. But as the movie cartwheels along we begin to discover that she’s running her own revolution on the side. Though she is now with Will (Jamie Dornan), a man with a desire for politics, she is as much a revolutionary as Rob.
Even Friar Tuck (Tim Minchin) has a role to play. The Catholic Church is a ubiquitous and ominous force in Robin Hood. When the Sherrif, the Cardinal, and Tuck meet to discuss the money laundering operation as well as what to do with the Hood, Tuck mentions turning the other cheek. The Sheriff and Cardinal look at him in utter bafflement. “Sorry,” Tuck says, “just telling you what the gospels say.” “Why would you follow a God like that?” The Sherriff sneers before joining the Cardinal for a round of rousing villainous laughter.
George Steel’s camera work meshes a baroque visual style when inside a cathedral to stylish sharp angles and quick pans when amidst Nottingham. Steel’s camera gets lost in the night time action scenes making it hard to tell what’s going on. All we know is that things are moving fast, structures are falling down, and someone is yelling “Rob!” To be fair that maybe all we need to know.
By its very nature, Robin Hood is political. Perhaps the joy comes from watching a movie being unabashedly political, in an age where movies feel timid about such things. Robin spouting off “that’s what I call a redistribution of wealth” is a little on the nose. Or perhaps, perhaps, it’s something more. Maybe it’s seeing corrupt politicians, supposed men of faith, liars, cheaters, and what have you-punished. It’s possible that just seeing bad people in power do bad things and have them actually face consequences adds an underlying layer of forgiveness.
Movies don’t exist in a vacuum. I’m willing to admit my enjoyment comes from my own philosophical musings about the consequences of living through a Liar’s presidency and what that does to our moral discourse, our self-worth, and what it does to our perception of integrity and truth. Robin Hood never comes close to hinting at any of these themes, much less the themes baked into the Robin Hood mythos itself. But it was fun and in the end, the bad guys lost and the good guys won. Basic yes, but in these trying times, refreshing none the less.