Good grief. I took the disdain that greeted Otto Bathurst’s big screen debut with a pinch of salt, on the basis that Guy Ritchie’s similarly-inclined lads-in-duds retelling of King Arthur was also lambasted, and that one turned out to be pretty good fun. Well, for the most part. But a passing resemblance is as close as these two would-be franchises get (that, and both singularly failed to start their respective franchises). Robin Hoodcould, but it definitely didn’t.
Robin of Loxley (Taron Egerton, crashing and burning horrifically) isn’t a not-so-humble peasant/grifter per the Ritchie movie. He is, at least in some passing acknowledgement of the legend, a nobleman. And one happy to flaunt his stuff, in particular towards Eve Hewson’s plucky (of course she is) Maid Marian. Until he gets a draft notice (WTF?), called up to serve in a War on Terror version of the Crusades, complete with missile launcher arrowpults that obliterate the Brits as if under heavy machine gunfire. Robin, being progressively principled and ethically alert, blanches at the execution of heathen prisoners and gets shipped back to Blighty after being shot by platoon leader Guy of Gisborne (Paul Anderson, doubtless picked by Bathurst due to their Peaky Blinders relationship).
But not before he managed to save Jamie Foxx’s Yahya (Little John), give or take a hand. As recompense, Foxx comes searching for Robin, to train him to be the best kind of rebel he can – in order to steal back the people’s funds being funnelled into funding the conflict – by way of an inane and tedious training montage.
Cue Robin leading a double life, posing as the Sheriff of Nottingham’s pal while leading raids as masked avenger the Hood. Ben Mendelsohn does his best to give the proceedings some welly as the Sheriff, coming as close as the picture ever does to sparking interest when he delights in pushing the captured John’s buttons. Unfortunately, the makers are so moribundly earnest in intent, they wouldn’t even think of allowing him to be someone we could root for (à la Alan Rickman).
Also showing up are F Murray Abraham, wasted as a dodgy Cardinal, Tim Minchin trying and conspicuously failing to be the next Eddie Izzard as Friar Tuck, and Jamie Dornan, unutterably bland as Will Scarlet. Egerton has shown himself a bright talent through his work with Matthew Vaughn (Kingsman, Eddie the Eagle, Rocketman), but he falls squarely on his face here, unable to draw on a winning personality and stuck for finding a semblance of character.
He’s left seething and grimacing and giving vacuous rallying speeches (“This is our crusade, and each and every one of us has to stand up or we go under”). The dispatching of the Sheriff (“You bastards, I’m the Sheriff of Nottingham”: “Not any more”) is about the only point of flippancy where the picture connects. Otherwise, it’s entirely lacking the sense of brio Ritchie brought to King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
Indeed, if Robin Hood had been silly and outlandish or outrageous – as the ridiculous designer clothing might lead you to expect – that might at least have been enough to justify its existence. But it’s simply dead in the water. As such, the movie that came to mind was the recent Tomb Raider boot, also with no shortage of money and talent thrown at it, but entirely without a pulse or reason to exist.
Of course, Bathurst’s film crashed and burned at the box office, having started out as Robin Hood: Originsand undergone several rescheduled release dates. Will this put the kibosh on another retelling for a while? Well, Sir Ridders’ version came out in the relatively recent 2010, and it’s more likely a movie no one went to see will actually give impetus to a new version people might (the Crowe movie underperformed relative its excessive price tag, but it nevertheless did perform). The problem is, studios are so obsessed with finding ways to make the source material different (ie similar to other movies it has essentially nothing to do with), they will most likely keep missing the mark.