I’m “biast” (con): …but many of the movie versions, not so much
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Another Robin Hood movie? It’s only been eight years since Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe crushed our geeky hearts by failing to give us the Gladiator-in-Sherwood-Forest movie their 2010 Robin Hood was implicitly promised to be? Ah, but never fear, this new Robin Hood is awful is its own unique ways. Right off the bat, you can tell that you’re in for something special, with the first sweeping view of the city of Nottingham featuring a suspension bridge in the background. You know: that kind of bridge that was invented in the 19th century. In America.
Anachronistic by accident? Oh no! This Robin Hood plays with anachronisms like a small mean child playing with matches: because he can, because he wants to see how much damage he can do. The body armor that Crusading knights, including Lord Robin of Loxley, wear is far more reminiscent of Kevlar vests than chainmail. Fancy ladies use hairspray for that punk-gothic look. Everyone in this Nottingham has a lovely wardrobe of machine-made clothing. Even the peasants who work in “the mines” that look like something out of Mordor… or Pittsburgh. Did the Industrial Revolution come early? Who knows? But it’s cool, it’s all cool, because Robin himself informs us in the opening narration that he “can’t remember the year” of his own origin story. “I could bore you with the history, but you wouldn’t listen,” he tells us, and you can hear the smugness in his voice.
This is a movie that insults its audience to its face, in its opening moments, and uses the hero we’re meant to cheer for to do it.
Things don’t get any better from here.
If the visual and cultural aesthetics — I use the word lightly — of Robin Hood are bizarre, then its ideas about politics are even worse: they’re not just anachronistic but downright nonsensical when they aren’t actively dangerous. Robin (a charmless Taron Egerton: Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Sing) returns from killing Muslims in Arabia to discover that his girl, Marian (Eve Hewson: Bridge of Spies, Blood Ties), is now with Will (Jaime Dornan: A Private War, Fifty Shades Freed), and both are working as social workers-slash-reformers in “the mines”; apparently Will has aspirations to “politics,” because that’s a thing that a peasant can have in this ridiculous pantomime of the medieval world. Robin, we had seen right from the get-go, has little sense of purpose or character, and comes across as a snide, shiftless rich kid; wanting to change the world was always down to Marian, so maybe she could have been the hero and this could have been her story? (Of course not! She’s a girl.) Even more outrageous is how “John” (Jamie Foxx: Baby Driver, Annie) follows Robin all the way back from Arabia because he has “chosen” Robin to speak truth to power, deciding to play second fiddle and magic Negro to Robin instead of leading his own rebellion against the rich and the powerful back in his own land. (John isn’t really his name; the movie’s sole attempt at humor is how multiple white Englishmen cannot pronounce his Arabic name, so they settle on calling him the most basic English name imaginable. Christ, at least the goofy Kevin Costner Prince of Thieves let Morgan Freeman be called Azeem.)
Anyway, between wanting to win Marian back and with “John” kicking his butt, Robin will square off against the sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn: Ready Player One, Darkest Hour). Here the political structure of this alternate universe really starts to fall apart. Somehow, the sheriff is powerful like a king, even though there’s an actual king elsewhere, and yet he also tolerates the “voice of the people.” I mean of course he’s only pretending to tolerate the peasants and their needs — he’s the bad guy — but he’s pretending to tolerate the peasants and their needs like a modern-day politician in a representative democracy does, not like an absolute despot in a monarchy does. It’s completely wacko. But then there’s also the sheriff’s evil plan, which is about using the money he’s collecting from the people of Nottingham to support Putin invading Ukraine… or basically the equivalent of whatever the hell era this movie thinks it’s taking place in. So woke! Or is it? It’s as if Robin Hood is positing that the only rich, powerful men who use the world as their own chessboard and enrich themselves at the expense of good decent ordinary working folk are cartoonish villains. Robin imagines that appealing to that distant king will actually solve the problem of the evil sheriff!
(Perhaps the saddest thing about this dumb movie is that it renders the usually wonderfully charismatic Mendelsohn unwatchable. I wouldn’t have thought this was possible.)
The levels upon which this movie is mindbogglingly misconceived just keep piling up the longer it goes on. It almost goes without saying that the action sequences have no context and no sense of space, so that we can never tell what is going on; this is almost a requirement for movies intended to be “gritty” nowadays. (Oh, there’s no mucking about in Sherwood Forest for this Robin Hood; it’s all happening on the “mean” yet neatly mechanically paved streets of Nottingham. Have I mentioned that this Nottingham looks like Epcot Center?) First-time feature director Otto Bathurst does not distinguish himself here, but he might be thinking that he’s walking in the footsteps of Guy Ritchie and his “gritty” and “street” King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, from last year, though why he would want to do that is a mystery: that one was a total box-office flop, coming nowhere near earning back its production budget, not even globally; critics mostly hated it too. The script is a vast realm of embarrassments; one notable lowlight is the attempt to gin up “redistribution of wealth” as a catchphrase, though there’s also a lot of jawdroppingly awful on-the-nose discussions of politics and monologuing about evil plans. (This was written by first-timers Ben Chandler and David James Kelly. How do two guys with no previous feature film credits and a script this terrible get the job? How did this get produced? Who signed off on this?)
This is an ugly, garish movie, completely lacking in anything we expect emotionally from a Robin Hood story: there’s no fun, there’s no romance, there’s no virtue. It should be outlawed. And not in a cool rebel way, either. Just banished to the woods forever.