2018, PG-13, 116 min. Directed by Otto Bathurst. Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Jamie Dornan, Tim Minchin, Paul Anderson, F. Murray Abraham.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Wed., Nov. 21, 2018
There’s much to loathe about this umpteenth iteration of He Who Steals From the Rich to Give to the Poor but also plenty to wonder at. First and foremost is the overtly politicized scripting courtesy of writers Ben Chandler and David James Kelly, who transform the noble-born Robin of Loxley from a dashing scoundrel into a bona fide 99-percenter raging against the machine and rallying the people of Nottingham into a veritable Occupy movement well and truly primed to rebel against Ben Mendelsohn’s dastardly, avaricious
President Trump Sheriff. An early scene, in which the Sheriff of Nottingham inveighs against the existential threat of dark-skinned hordes of Arabian barbarians at the gates – this is the Crusades, the original ones, I mean – lacks only White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in terms of sheer political contemporaneity. It’s a bold, silly move on the filmmakers' part but I’ve got to hand it to them – they keep this weird mélange of Euro-socialism-meets-CW-level-acting flying all the way through to the inevitable, sequel-expectant end. As if that weren’t enough to set the mind reeling, there’s even a downright secular humanist subplot involving some egregiously nefarious doings by the holy church, overseen by F. Murray Abraham’s Cardinal, channeling Darth Sidious as well as everything you ever suspected was troubling about organized religion. (Abraham, along with the entire cast, appears delighted to not just chew the scenery but devour it with Nosferatu-like abandon.)
Robin (the blandly likable Egerton), presumed felled in far-off Arabia, returns to Nottingham along with his Moorish mentor Little John (Foxx). The North African warrior – whose actual, indigenously unpronounceable name is played for cringeworthy laughs – quickly schools “The Hood” in the finer points of close-quarter archery while Robin pines for Marian (Hewson), who’s taken up with man of the people Bernie Sanders, uh, make that Will Scarlet (Dornan, playing it veddy serious indeed). Thankfully, levity is on hand in the person of Friar Tuck (Minchin, looking and acting for all the world like Black Books-era Bill Bailey), no longer the rotund wine connoisseur of yore but instead acting here as a 13th century version of Anonymous, gunpowder plot and all.
Robin Hood isn’t as awful as all that, really. For one thing, it’s too singularly bizarre to be anything less than head scratchingly entertaining, and the action set-pieces are pulled off with much quivery panache. True, this partisan take on guerrilla partisans begs, borrows, and outright steals from other rebel strongholds (Spartacus, Ben-Hur, V for Vendetta, Batman Begins, and the aforementioned melodrama taking place in a galaxy far, far away, just to name a few), but to its goofball credit it certainly doesn’t lack for lunatic bravado. By far this revisionist film’s strangest gambit is allowing this particular Sheriff of Nottingham a truly horrific and altogether not PG-13 proper backstory involving his youthful status as a foundling taken in by the church and, well, no spoilers here but let’s just say the Holy See shall not be amused. (Although one likes to think Ken Russell might’ve gotten a kick out of it.)
As always, no Hood could dare to match the grinning, devil-may-care acrobatics of Errol Flynn in 1938’s outrageously entertaining, dare I say merry, The Adventures of Robin Hood. Wisely, director Bathurst and company don’t even bother to attempt to mimic the toxophilite wonders of Michael Curtiz and William Keighley’s iconic masterpiece. This Robin Hood is instead a spirited misfire, curiously compelling in its jerkin-clad eccentricity and front-and-center dumbness.