Forget history. Forget everything you think you know. This film opens with a bold claim, as an unnamed narrator – later revealed to be Tim Minchin’s Friar Tuck – explains that what we are about to watch is something entirely new. He also kindly informs us that it is “no bedtime story”. Maybe so, but that’s not to say it won’t put you to sleep.
This is the latest Hollywood retelling of the legend of Robin Hood, brought to you by journeyman TV director Otto Bathurst and first-time screenwriters Ben Chandler and David James Kelly. It is, ominously, the first instalment in a proposed franchise, and perhaps tellingly takes its cues more from Guy Ritchie’s bloated, blokeish King Arthur and the Assassin’s Creed video game series than any previous cinematic adaptation of this age-old English folktale. Quite who the film is for is anyone’s guess.
Taron Egerton plays Robin of Loxley, a scampish nobleman and skilled marksmen who is drafted to fight in the Crusades in the Middle East. Rob is shown to be a fearless fighter but evidently has a problem with authority, and he returns to Nottingham battle-scared and desperately seeking revenge against those in power. Initially his journey from toff to trauma victim hints at something far removed from the cosy swashbuckling adventures of a tight-clad rogue and his band of merry men, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. But this darker character arc is never really explored, the script instead opting to foreground our hero’s on-off relationship with Eve Hewson’s thinly-sketched Marian.
While Marian’s narrative function is to distract Rob and generally get in the way, Jamie Foxx’s Arabian soldier “John” (his real name is too foreign to pronounce), plays a more decisive role. Having stowed away on a boat to England in order to track down the vindictive general who murdered his son, John devises a project mayhem-style plan to scupper the Sheriff’s punishing war tax, thereby providing respite for the long-suffering townspeople. Ben Mendelsohn is on top bastard form as the Sheriff of Nottingham, although after a string of similar turns in Rogue One and Ready Player One his villain act is starting to wear a little thin.
Bathurst has pitched Robin Hood as a “hip” take on the titular character’s origins, yet it is a decidedly dour, un-groovy affair. It’s a love story devoid of romance, an action flick severely lacking in spark and spectacle, a historical epic filled with flagrant inaccuracies and wrongheaded revisionism. There is nothing particularly fresh or inventive about the film, and, setting aide the wildly incongruous accents, jarringly modern, machine-stitched costumes and ugly CG render of a vaguely medieval setting, it is a simple fact that no one has ever looked cool shooting a bow and arrow while pirouetting backwards off a ledge. Jamie Dornan also stars.