There’s a good movie in Robin Hood somewhere, hidden underneath that hood. Actually, I take that back—not a good movie, but a fun one. A film that coasts on Taron Egerton’s undeniable charisma, lets Ben Mendelsohn’s teeth rot from too much scenery chewing, and doesn’t care about the fact that it’s so historically inaccurate it exists outside of time itself. I wanted so much for Robin Hood to be that movie. It is not that movie.
Directed by Otto Bathurst, Robin Hood “tells” the well-known story of Robin of Loxley (Egerton), a legendary hero who robs from the rich and gives to the poor. I put “tell” in quotation marks because the only thing this version has in common with its source material is the names and time period it takes place in. That should be fine—in fact, I was looking forward to that! Robin Hood is a centuries-old tale that’s had countless adaptations, and creators should have the freedom to make these stories their own. However, there are limits.
Robin Hood stomps on those limits, steals their babies, throws the babies on the floor, pours gasoline on all them babies, and lights them on fire. By the way, gasoline exists in the Middle Ages now—as do midriff tops, wire-rimmed glasses, roulette, the entire Industrial Revolution, and my permanently bewildered expression. My mum always warned me my face would freeze like this, and alas. Here we are.
Our saga begins during the Third Crusades. Yes, the film is indeed set in the Middle Ages, as much as I wanted to believe it would exist in some mythical alternate reality—or perhaps a post-apocalyptic wasteland—to justify every choice it makes. Robin, or “Rob,” is a humble lord who falls in love with a hot thief named Marian (Eve Hewson). I won’t waste time talking about Marian, the movie’s only notable female character, because she fails every representation test there is. She’s worse than a “Sexy Lamp,” she’s a Human Stare. All she does is look at stuff, lips partially opened, waiting to have a thought. She bought her clothes in Forever 21's Reign section.
Their lives are a non-stop sex and stare montage...until the Sheriff of Nottingham (Mendelsohn) drafts Rob for service in the war. Nottingham is the main villain in this version, as Prince John doesn’t exist here. This leads Robin to the Middle East, where he and his platoon of fatigues-wearing soldiers walk around an abandoned desert village, arrows permanently notched in their bows like they’re AK-47s ready to fire. I wish I was kidding.
This war montage starts off silly, but then things quickly get uncomfortable. Crossbows fire like machine guns through people’s chests, Islamic prisoners of war are mocked for their faith and then brutally decapitated, and the whole thing reeks of some failing college sophomore’s edgy commentary on modern warfare. I bring this up for two reasons: 1) I hate it, and 2) it represents everything that doesn’t work about this movie. Also, I hate it.
As mentioned earlier, there’s a good film inside Robin Hood...for about 40 minutes. In between Operation: Desert Crusades and a whole Antifa thing I’ll get to momentarily, we get an actual Robin Hood movie. He’s robbing from the rich, fighting in great action sequences with silly archery, and making wisecracks to the camera that are so charming you can’t help but love them. None of it is historically accurate, nor does it make sense, but it’s enjoyable to watch. Sure, he’s basically Batman, but Egerton is having the time of his life playing the “rich boy by day, hero by night.” Jamie Foxx phones it in as John, Robin’s trainer and new best friend, but he’s so naturally charismatic it’s easy to forgive. I also have to note that Foxx and Egerton have great chemistry together, to the point where it feels downright romantic.
The problem with Robin Hood is everything else. The entertaining buddy action comedy about a pair of sexually confused rebel heroes clashes with the overall unpleasant tone. The film thinks it’s saying more than it actually is.
The world Robin Hood takes place in is bleak, but not in the way that actual feudalism was bleak. This movie wants us to identify with these people’s struggles, so it all comes across as very moh-dern. The Sheriff of Nottingham is portrayed as a fascist whose pleather coat audibly creaks in every other scene. There’s representational democracy in the form of parliament lords, whom the Sheriff sucks up to for votes on tax bills (Rob represents the “youth vote” apparently). The Sheriff has also teamed up for general evil-doing with the Catholic Church. The church itself is so corrupt that the cardinal, played by a criminally underused F. Murray Abraham, flat-out admits the church “invented hell”...a jarring statement that comes out of nowhere and is never addressed.
Then, there are the People. The poor, poor commoners who wander coal mines as if they strolled off the set of Les Misérables, with empty soup bowls and at least two doses of Ambien in their veins. “The Hood” (because Robin Hood doesn’t sound hip enough) becomes their resistance symbol, as they tack actual hoods onto walls like Guy Fawkes masks. And their eventual rebellion, led by Jamie Dornan as Will Scarlet, takes visual cues from modern political movements like Antifa and Anonymous.
None of it clicks. And it’s not because the time period Robin Hood takes place in was a monarchy, rather than a fascist republic, rendering the whole thing stupid on its face (though that’s part of it). It’s because Robin Hood doesn’t bother figuring out what its statement actually is.
I’m not against reinterpreting history to make a point on contemporary culture. I celebrate that...when it works. A Knight’s Tale is an excellent example of a period piece cleverly integrating modern references, as its use of current music and fandom drew parallels to modern sports culture. But that’s not what Robin Hood is doing. It’s not reinterpreting history to make a point about the ties between absolute power and fascism. It’s not smart enough to make those parallels fit.
It’s doing it because someone thought having guys in masks throw cannon ball Molotov cocktails at 12th century riot shields would look cool, and someone else figured that they could because, in their eyes, symbols equal commentary. But using symbols of revolution—whether it be a masked protest, a snide comment against organised religion, or a single hood tacked on a wall—don’t work without contextualizing what your revolution actually stands for. Robin Hood is an entertaining movie hiding under a great deal of self-importance—if only it had embraced the style, instead of acting like it had something to say.
Robin Hood comes out November 22.