After countless adaptations and remakes, you’re undoubtedly quite familiar with the tale of Robin Hood, the charismatic and good-hearted thief who robs from the rich to give to the poor. But, as Taron Egerton’s title character instructs in the opening voice over of Robin Hood, “forget history.” You wouldn’t be interested in yet another retelling of that story, anyway. Although this Robin Hood still spends some time rehashing a few notable elements of the classic tale, the latest take offers a revisionist version that’s handsomely made and surprisingly fun.
Directed by Otto Bathurst (Peaky Blinders) and produced under Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way banner, the latest Robin Hood certainly looks and acts the part of a studio franchise-starter — though the box office numbers may ultimately determine whether we spend any more time with Egerton’s Robin of Loxley and Jamie Foxx’s (not so) Little John. As with previous iterations, this one finds Robin preoccupied with redistributing the wealth of Nottingham, stealing from the 1% to give to the remaining 99 – many of whom, including fair Marian (Eve Hewson), were relocated to a small, grimy mining community while Robin was away fighting in the Crusades. In his absence, the nefarious Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) has wrongly declared Robin dead and levied unreasonable taxes against the citizens — forcing them into poverty in the name of preventing the Saracens of neighboring Arabia from entering the country.
Mendelsohn exquisitely chews scenery as the evil sheriff, leading numerous rallies to rile up the citizenry with inflammatory speeches rife with vile, racist rhetoric — not unlike a certain president of the United States. With lines about disemboweling his enemies until the streets run red with their blood and the rats are swimming in it, Mendelsohn’s performance is so deliciously outlandish in its villainy that he makes Gary Oldman look obsolete. Mendelsohn is also a strong indicator of the self-awareness of this Robin Hood and the tone it’s looking to strike — a well-made and rather enjoyable, if not particularly great, B-action movie. It’s Robin Hood by way of Batman, with a fair amount of practical stunt work and some surprisingly engaging chase sequences involving horses and buggies (of all things).
There are obvious parallels between Robin Hood and the Dark Knight, with Egerton’s quite charming vigilante inspiring the lower-class citizens to nail black hoods around a city lorded over by a corrupt politician. Jamie Dornan does a serviceable Harvey Dent as Will Scarlet, Marian’s new beau who hopelessly tries to fight the good fight on the most honest (and frankly absurd) terms possible. Jamie Foxx plays Little John (merely John, here) as a Saracen who wants to avenge the brutal murder of his son and disrupt the seemingly endless cycle of war that’s been engineered and perpetuated by greedy governments on both sides.
The weakest links in the cast are Hewson’s Marian — who is senselessly dressed like a video game vixen — and Tim Minchin’s Friar Tuck, who seems like a misguided attempt at comic relief. But Egerton, Mendelsohn, Foxx, and F. Murray Abraham (in a devilish late-game turn) are all consistently engaging, even when the film’s socio-political plot gets a bit monotonous. Though the editing is occasionally clumsy, the action sequences are all mostly riveting — the sort of absurd, explosive stunt work frequently enjoyed in dumb-fun action flicks like last year’s xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. Combined with handsome, ember-tinged cinematography from Peaky Blinders DP George Steel, Robin Hood is never dull to look at.
Is Robin Hood a “great” movie? Nope, but it is a great time at the movies, and sometimes that’s all you need.