Robin Hood declares that it is not interested in boring us with ancient history, but the movie has an obvious interest in more recent history.
It opens with battle sequences set in the Middle East during the Crusades, but the visuals suggest more contemporary combat – hand-held cameras follow soldiers through hot and dusty streets, giving us bleached-out digital images of infantrymen in T-shirts and sleeveless armor – scenes that look like something out of The Hurt Locker or American Sniper, except that bows and arrows are the weapons of choice.
In the fray is Robin of Locksley (Taron Egerton) leading his “unit” on a rescue mission that ends in an ambush and a great deal of bloodshed, meaning the end of the war for Robin, and also for a Muslim captive (Jamie Foxx) who follows Robin back to England.
There, Robin finds much has changed back on his home turf of Nottingham. The sheriff (Ben Mendelsohn) has bled the citizens dry with a “war tax” to fund the king’s crusades, which he justifies with a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric. The war is necessary, he says, to keep the Islamic hordes from descending upon England, where they would “infiltrate” and “proliferate,” and the script is obviously attuned to anti-immigrant rhetoric common among nationalist groups.
He says, “They hate our freedom, our culture, our religion,” but Robin is a veteran of the Middle East campaign and isn’t buying it. In fact, he works with Foxx’s character (his Arabic name is shortened to plain old John) to organize a rebellion among the overtaxed and brutalized citizenry.
Robin Hood, like Guy Ritchie’s ill-fated King Arthur, is meant to update a hoary old legend for a modern, younger crowd. It’s uptempo with aggressively contemporary dialogue and fashion. The sheriff wears a neo-fascist Armani trenchcoat (it’s actually pretty nice), while Robin wears a kind of Members Only quilted jacket with a hoodie that he uses for midnight raids.
This becomes his calling card as he robs the sheriff and the church and turns the money over to the poor. Soon, young folks all over Nottingham are nailing hoodies to fence posts as a gesture of solidarity.
As the rebellion grows, he joins forces with the a young woman named Marian (Eve Hewson), who calls Robin “Rob” and who has her own independent insurgency going on, co-led by a guy (Jamie Dornan) who’s trying to organize townsfolk forced to toil in the local mines.
What do they mine there?
Bad dialogue. Mendelsohn does what he can with it, but his performance (which comes with a lisp) is intermittently campy. We know it’s intermittently campy, because when F. Murray Abraham shows up as a corrupt cardinal, we see what a completely campy performance looks like.
The movie, though, lingers on no one performance for long. It’s edited for viewers raised on video games (and often looks like one) and has a mash-up mentality. There are some old Matrix moves, a borrowing from Ben-Hur, and, as an archer, Egerton looks to be channeling Orlando Bloom from Lord of the Rings.
The movie is very urban and culminates with barricades stormed by folks wearing antifa fashions, and a wanted poster that looks like it was designed by Banksy. Sherwood Forest gets only a cameo.
Directed by Otto Bathurst. With Taron Egerton, Eve Hewson, Jamie Foxx, Jamie Dornana, F. Murray Abraham, and Ben Mendelsohn. Distributed by Summit Entertainment.
Running time: 116 minutes
Parents guide: PG-13 (violence)