Thu, 06 Dec 2018
Robin Hood (12A)
Running time 2hr 20min
SAY what you will about last year’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, at least it had a vague sense of what it was trying to accomplish, with its cast of stone-faced medieval geezers and its pastel-grey ye olde backdrops. This new foray into Sherwood Forest comes hot on the heels of the former, but, rather than learning from its non-success, it doubles down on everything that made Guy Ritchie’s feudal fracas such a plodding and pointless watch.
Taron Egerton, the king regnant of British laddism, would seem a natural fit to play England’s all-time favourite outlaw, and he does, indeed, bring a roguish charm to the title role. A first-act sojourn to the Holy Land promises a rather better film than director Otto Bathurst will ultimately deliver, as Robin of Loxley, having left his beloved Maid Marian (Eve Hewson) to go on crusade, dodges Saracen arrows, befriends a Moorish prisoner (the charismatic Jamie Foxx) and generally gets a handle on his renegade potential. The Foxx-Egerton pairing is a clear throwback to the Kevin Costner-Morgan Freeman mechanic from 1991’s Prince of Thieves; the duo have a certain chemistry, but it’s somewhat mitigated upon Robin’s return to Nottingham.
Here, the brutish authorities are squeezing the peasants dry for war taxes; our heroes, recognising the niche for a popular figurehead to lead the locals against the oppressive city leadership, plot to take their hard-earned cash back.
Bathurst, gunning for the vibrance of Assassin’s Creed or the grim surrealism of Mad Max: Fury Road, realises Nottingham as a pseudo-steampunk cosmopolis; this could just as easily be Coruscant (Star Wars) as 12th-century England. If only to enhance the baffling Star Wars vibe, Rogue One’s Ben Mendelsohn gets a billing as the dastardly Sheriff, a role to which he brings bucketloads of panto-villain implausibility (think Alan Rickman in Prince of Thieves – “call off Christmas!”). While the Hood-Sheriff rivalry rarely demands nuance or subtlety of performers, it should always be fun – Mendelsohn’s faux-malevolence is no match for Egerton’s rude-boy appeal, and the film only suffers for it. Admittedly, we do get a few stabs at moral complexity before the production sinks into popcorn melodrama (the sheriff is revealed to be the product of a cruel upbringing), but those in want of a truly gritty version of this story are encouraged to look elsewhere – Ridley Scott’s 2010 film does not even deserve a mention alongside this tripe.
In fact, inconsistent casting is but the least of Robin Hood’s problems. In search of contemporary relevance, the movie bigs up the political dimensions of the saga, portraying the hero as a plucky social bandit; rarely, however, does this progressive ethos inform anything other than the film’s most superficial aspects, with Hewson’s ill-scripted heroine emerging as the exact sort of damsel Hollywood has sought to eschew of late. Ultimately, a couple of decent performances aren’t going to make a decent Hood adventure, and this film’s perplexing art direction, stunted action sequences and rotten screenplay fail to cut the mustard.