Robin Hood

Year: 2018
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Director: Otto Bathurst
Writer: Ben Chandler/David James Kelly
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Jamie Dornan, Tim Minchin, F Murray Abraham

Cinema is full of examples of the fluffier version of a story that shouldn't have worked ending up a hit where the serious rendition was forgotten, and the Robin Hood story itself is not immune. Back in the early 90s Patrick Bergin starred in the more serious, cerebral Robin Hood and nobody saw it because we were all queueing up for the sexier and more exciting but completely throwaway Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Robin Hood takes that sentiment – the 'look, we know it's rubbish escapist entertainment complete with historic anachronisms and directed like a Zack Snyder music video just like you do, just enjoy yourself' – vibe and runs with it. After getting past the bemusement that anyone in Hollywood thought it was a good idea to make yet another movie about Robin Hood, it's not too hard to enjoy the popcorn quality of it.

Loxley (Taron Egerton) is again a crusader sent by the Dark Ages monarchist government to ransack the Muslim world like he was in the guise of Kevin Costner's once upon a time, and he returns to England to find his nobleman status gone, his estate and castle forcibly acquired and stripped to help fund the populist/fascist Sheriff of Nottingham's (Ben Mendelsohn) war effort, one that's sending the village broke.

In response, Robin is approached by John (Jamie Foxx), one of the prisoners of war bought back to England whom he happened to help when he refused to follow orders of such brutality. John suggests they team up, using his skill to teach Loxley to become the titular hero so they can hit the totalitarian Nottingham machine where it hurts – in the bank.

The pair train to make Loxley an even better marksman, a kind of superhero/ninja who becomes an underground hero, his identity hidden from everyone including his former love interest Marian (Eve Hewson, all smoky eyes and cleavage) the girl who believed him dead while he was gone and who's now with firebrand political activist Will (Jamie Dornan).

As he sacks the gold counting houses and stores of the Sheriff and inspires the people to rise up while his legend grows, Robin also tries to navigate his feelings for Marian and his and John's plan to ingratiate himself with the Sheriff to gain the best possible political advantage.

As the above description of the plot suggests, there's a lot going on, and screenwriters Ben Chandler and David James Kelly don't concern themselves too much with reinventing the wheel. The Robin Hood mythology has always been very applicable to the American sensibility of hero-worship, anti-authoritarianism and rebellion anyway, and the script leans into it whole-heartedly.

In fact the most inventive part of the writing is the way they've transposed the social framework, technology and setting from the essential mythology to such a modern adventure movie tone. When Robin and his platoon do battle in the Middle East, their enemies employ gas-powered automatic weapons that fire steel arrows which pierce and shatter brick walls, sending explosive plumes of dust and smashed rock everywhere. It seems to be a mission statement on the part of the movie that's it's neither your Dad's nor your infant niece's Robin Hood.

The direction by Otto Bathurst is likewise more concerned with action, special effects and thrills than anything else. Look no further than the difference between the bow and arrow training montage in Loxley's ruined castle – which is expertly staged and choreographed – and Hewson's accent, which wobbles so wildly between Irish brogue and corn-fed Midwest farmer's daughter it's hard to ignore.

Egerton is the pretty and bland central pivot, but the more interesting role is Ben Mendelsohn as the Sheriff. After decades as a jobbing actor in Australia, he seems to have accepted his fate as the snivelling lead villain straight out of central casting now he's an international star. This is the exact same role he played in Rogue One and Ready Player One, and he shows no signs of doing anything else.

In one sense it's a bit if a disappointment because he's capable of so much more, but it's hard to begrudge him the fat paycheques he must be cashing these days to just show up and twirl his moustache after working for so many years.

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