The latest cinematic retelling of the Robin Hood myth from English history starts with a portentous voice warning you to “forget everything you know about Robin Hood. Forget history.” Perhaps a more apt warning has never appeared at the beginning of a movie, because this retelling of Robin Hood has nothing to do with the outlaw living in the forest with his band of merry men. It’s an abomination all its own.
The era is the same, but the production team apparently never visited Nottingham because in the film it’s a huge, sprawling city with a huge coal mine and enormous palace, along with suspended wooden roads above the minimal forested areas. Young Robin of Loxley (Taron Egerton) is master of a Nottingham area manor and flirting with the lovely young Marian (Eve Hewson) when there’s an ominous knock on the door: He’s been drafted to join the King’s army and head overseas to help retake the holy city of Jerusalem from the Moors. It’s the Crusades and one doesn’t say no to the King.
While overseas, he finds the life of a soldier acceptable, dashing about and shooting bad guy Arabs and Moors is even kinda fun. When he helps capture a group of Moorish soldiers, it’s to his horror that he learns the prisoners are all to be summarily executed. He can’t have that on his conscience and he attempts to intervene. His protest earns the respect and trust of the hulking, moody Moorish warrior John (Jamie Foxx), but accomplishes naught else. Robin is sent back to England and somehow John stows away on the ship and they become friends. And just in time: Loxley manor is destroyed and Marion, who was told years earlier that “Rob” had died during his time overseas, has taken up with Will (Jamie Dornan).
The Sheriff of Nottingham is played by Ben Mendelsohn, who basically reprises his role as the evil Orson Krennic in Rogue One, even to the same accent and mannerisms. But the Sheriff isn’t a bad guy, we learn, he just had a tough childhood and abusive parental figures as a young man. When the Sheriff announces to the downtrodden plebes of Nottingham that taxes are going to be raised yet again to fund the war effort, everyone complains. Marion and Will both yell out their challenges, saying no-one can afford to pay more, the people need a break. This, of course, doesn’t work, which inspires our hero Robin to wreak his revenge by stealing from the Sheriff and the King.
Problem is, he doesn’t have much in the way of criminal skills. Fortunately John turns out to be an expert commander and extraordinary bowman. Oh, but he lost a hand in the wars too, so all he can do is train Robin to be able to shoot, hack, sneak and pillage. And so he does. In fact, between the velocity Robin can achieve with his bow and the multi-arrow shooting weapons, we find out that metal tipped arrows are crazy dangerous, able to take chunks out of stone walls and fly accurately for hundreds of meters regardless of conditions.
You can guess how it all plays out now, right? Marion doesn’t realize that Robin of Loxley is “The Hood” but all the downtrodden masses are inspired by this new criminal who embarasses the Sheriff while stealing money that might, or might not be subsequently redistributed to them. John is accepted as a member of the diverse Nottingham society (even though the English are being taxed simultaneously to fight the Moors overseas), and the Sheriff does nothing to redeem himself. In fact, it turns out that the Sheriff is in cahoots with, well, no spoilers. But no real surprise either.
The fundamental problem with this daft Robin Hood movie is that if you’re going to have a complete and grossly historically inaccurate reimagining of a beloved mythic hero, you have to really deliver something great. Instead, the dialog is excruciatingly banal (laugh-out-loud bad at some points), the action is a CGI demo reel, there’s zero tension at any point in the story and while Egerton might be an attractive young man, he has absolutely no passion or believability as the titular hero.
There’s really not much at all to justify the ticket price to go see Robin Hood. It’s reminiscent of last year’s abysmal King Arthur: Legend of the Sword in that it grabs the most rudimentary elements from a well known story and takes them in a completely new and frankly baffling direction. Though the film ends with a very obvious setup for a sequel, one can only hope that the production team decides to back a different movie with a more comprehensible story. Skip it. Just skip it.