As someone whose formative cinematic experiences with Robin Hood were Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) and Cary Elwes in the middling spoof Robin Hood: Men in Tights, I had low expectations coming into Otto Bathurst’s latest adaptation of the old tale. That being said, it somehow still managed to underwhelm, being overlong and dull despite being ambitious, fascinating and unintentionally funny. It’s almost such a mess that it’s admirable, but the overall flatness of the movie makes for a pretty dreary ride.
The film takes a vague sort of revisionist approach to the legend of Robin Hood (played by Taron Egerton), making it pertinent to a modern world while setting it in an odd dystopian, retrofuturist Middle Ages that borrows just a little from Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971). It easily ties in the Robin Hood mythos, the Crusades and the Catholic Church with class disparity, the war on terror and the religious right. The Sherwood Forest of this film is a fire-spewing hell where the common man toils in mines and the ruling classes are decadent and selfish. At the same time, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) is a jingoist who rails against hoards of outsiders coming to burn down England while his henchmen dress suspiciously like riot cops.
In theory, something like this is should have teeth and feel very urgent. But the movie makes the mistake of being incredibly on the nose instead of subversive. There’s little subtlety to be found here. This isn’t just a comment on Robin Hood‘s mode of political discourse, but its storytelling abilities, too. Everything is loud and silly, leaning heavily on Christopher Nolan’s more bombastic moments and lifting visual cues from The Matrix (1999), but with an odd goofiness to it all.
There’s this constant need to take modern action movie tropes and set them in the Middle Ages. Instead of a car chase, you get a horse-and-cart chase. Every time the film begins to feel interesting, it quickly veers toward the overcooked. There’s just a constant parade of silliness and overacting (particularly Jamie Foxx’s Little John) but without the sense to be fun or entertaining. The movie constantly chooses to be a weird, overblown mess, but not in a way that you actually want to watch. The action is confusing, the acting is overdone, the storytelling is uninspired, and subtext is hamfisted. It all makes for a bit of a curio, but not one that’s very engaging. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive references.
Now playing at Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande.