Principal Cast : Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Tim Minchin, Jamie Dornan, Paul Anderson, F Murray Abraham, Josh Herdman, Cornelius Booth, Bjorn Bengtsson.
Synopsis: A war-hardened Crusader and his Moorish commander mount an audacious revolt against the corrupt English crown in a thrilling action-adventure packed with gritty battlefield exploits, mind-blowing fight choreography, and a timeless romance.
They say with anything “practice makes perfect”. Given Hollywood has been making Robin Hood films for about a hundred years, you think they’d actually be able to make a good one. Otto Bathurst’s mindless jumble of established lore and its on-screen rape and pillaging is an affront to cinema; a juvenile, inane adventure ruined by an abundance of frantic slo-mo and destitute soullessness combined with an anachronistic stupidity as well as flagrant idiocy of scripting. In place of literary competency comes glib one-liners, transient bad-guy buffonery and an intrinsic lack of respect for the source material: Taron Egerton, whilst good in the Kingsman series, looks entirely miscast as the titular robber-thief, while Jamie Foxx fades into the shadow of Morgan Freeman’s memorable essaying of prety much the same character, in this hyperviolent and hyperkinetic extravaganza that’s neither extravagant or… a ganza.
After he’s conscripted into the King’s Army to travel to Arabia for the Third Crusade, and encounters brutality unlike that which he’s ever seen, Nottingham aristocrat Robin of Loxley (Egerton) returns home after four years to find the life he once knew is gone. His lover, Matian (Eve Hewson) has fallen for another man, wannabe politician Will Willman (Jamie Dornan), and the town’s leaders have become incredibly corrupt. They are led by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn), who has a pact with Cardinal Franklin (F Murray Abraham) to supply his plunder of exorbitant taxes to ostensibly fun the Crusade. With the help of his friend, Friar Tuck (Tim Minchin), Robin trains with his Saracen associate Little John (Jamie Foxx) to become the secret rogue thief, “the Hood,” to steal from the Sheriff and give back to the poor and downtrodden.
This version of Robin Hood is designed for people with limited or no attention spans. Astonishingly schizophrenic, Robin Hood’s aesthetic is mixing the overly discombobulating action of Saving Private Ryan (arrows become sledgehammer bullets) with the hysterically overplayed double-identity mechanics of Batman (Robin uses his Hood persona as the Batman part, while his public persona takes on a vaguely Bruce Wayne social-climber type), the action “cool” factor of Kurt Wimmer’s Equilibrium amped up to a thousand, with the explosive visual diarrhoea of whatever it was that Guy Ritchie King Arthur thing was about. Truth be told, you’ll be crying out for a moment’s breathing room as Bathurst, from a script by Ben Chandler and David James Kelly, plunges us into a bizarre fantasy-period era Dark Ages, with highly tailored couture outfits (Egerton never has a strand out of place, like a proper gent) and desperately gorgeous production design the backdrop of this woefully misguided action film.
The basis of any decent film – regardless of genre – is for your central character to be accessible to the audience; after all, we need to empathise or associate with his light in order for the film to generate some kind of angst or conflict we will connect with. Robin Hood never once achieves this, woefully inadequate in establishing Robin’s upper-class backstory before thrusting him into the 10th Century equivalent of the Iraq War – complete with costuming that assumes a hugely problematic American military fetishism. Robin isn’t a character we really like, no matter how earnestly Egerton plays him, because he’s just boring to watch. His arc lacks coherence – is he a fumbling idiot who happens to become an accidental hero, or is he an upper-crust dilettante who needs to be brought down several pegs? We just don’t know, he’s as bland as unsalted butter. Egerton’s chemistry with co-star Eve Hewson (who, as it turns out, is the daughter of U2 lead-singer Bono!) is palpable but neither are given much depth to deal with. Jamie Foxx’s snarling Saracen is inexplicably laughable, his “training” regimen montage being simply a chance for the actor to take his shirt off over a steaming tub of something something oh I lost track it was so beautiful….
The only person having fun in this egregious spectacle is Ben Mendelsohn, who steps right out of Rogue One and into Robin Hood without breaking stride. His odious Sheriff Of Nottingham is a far cry from the late Alan Rickman’s hysterical essay of the same role, with Mendelsohn grimacing and growling through his snivelling part with aplomb, if only he was in a better film, alas. Jamie Dornan’s Will Tillman (aka Will Scarlet, for those trying to keep up) is astonishingly terrible, the former Fifty Shades actor lost amid his native Irish accent and the whirligig of ensemble players we’re forced to keep up with. What I did find hilarious (in a good way) was the utter stroke of genius in casting Aussie comedian (and noted atheist) Tim Minchin as the, er.. faithful Friar Tuck: Minchin is eminently watchable with his minor role and actually highlights the work of those in every scene he’s in. Wonderful stuff. A smaller role to a slimy F Murray Abraham, as a corrupt church Cardinal, brings a sense of authority to an otherwise anarchic cinematic outing, but even he cannot salvage this utter debacle.
Robin Hood was sold on the understanding that this was as far from Errol Flynn’s iconic portrayal as it was possible for modern cinema to get. This film certainly achieved it: whether for the best or not is entirely up to you, if you can be bothered to finish it. Action set-pieces feel all-too frantic and hammer home the brash, hyperbolic sensibility most modern genre films feel necessary to heighten the energy. As I alluded to, it’s like BAFTA-winning director Otto Bathurst (for Peaky Blinders, not this shit) looked at Guy Ritchie’s current output and thought “yeah I want to make a film exactly like those“. Incredibly anachronistic dialogue, plot mechanics and production design (seriously, arrow-machine-guns?) combine with obnoxious sound design and an overbearing score (by poor Joseph Trapanese), surrounding George Steel’s otherwise wonderful cinematography and obliterating it with some truly rancid editorial choices. You know that now-infamous bit in Taken 3 where Lian Neeson’s character climbs a fence? The one with a bazillion unnecessary edits? Well, this film is exactly like that; it’s a nonsense, an over-edited shambles looking for coherence and structure and finding a discordant jumble of inanity. Some of the footage shot for the film is gorgeous, minor highlights in a bombardment of tone-deaf direction and ill-judged temperament, but you’ll have to look hard to find anything worth salvaging in this mess.
Perhaps, however, I am not the target demographic for this deplorable shitfest. My daughter, who is nine as of this review, thought it was awesome. Which goes a long way to explaining why somebody with any cinematic taste at all will find this fatuously indefensible waste of time to be a lamentable, inexcusable pile of bilge and human waste. Hideously written, directed with the competency of a sledgehammer crafting fine porcelain, and devoid of any sense of purpose and reason other than to look cool firing four arrows at the same time, 2018’s Robin Hood is an assemblage of visual material that was somehow thrown into a blender and a time machine, feeling like wish-fulfilment anti-heroism lacking both purpose and a point. Avoid this one at all costs.
© 2019, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.