Robin Hood is one of the most legendary characters in film and literature being the subject of numerous movies and books across several decades. With so many big screen adaptations of his story keeping his popularity afloat it’s no wonder a new cinematic version has been released for 2018 as well. However, this new “Robin Hood” takes a similar approach to storytelling to many other modern retellings of literary legends by updating the material for a new generation with more lighthearted action and a more “hip” and “relatable” hero. The problem with this approach is it almost NEVER works, but that doesn’t necessarily mean “Robin Hood” couldn’t be the exception. After all it was produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, so you’d think there would be some merit to it right? So, does this new version of the famed archer and outlaw buck the trend and add to its legendary source material or is “Robin Hood” only the latest in a growing line of bland retellings of tired stories? Let’s find out. This is my review of “Robin Hood” (2018).
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
The 2018 “Robin Hood” film focuses on the titular Robin of Loxley (Taron Egerton), a lord who doesn’t conform to the power-hungry rule of his fellow societal elites. Robin meets and falls in love with a compassionate thief named Marian (Eve Hewson), but when Robin is drafted to fight in the crusades by the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) he finds himself questioning the righteousness of the war after years of battle. While in that war he meets a warrior names John (Jamie Foxx) and after returning to Nottingham to find the sheriff taxing the common folk to fund the war Robin and John decide to steal from the sheriff while Robin uses his status as a Lord to get close to his enemy and avoid suspicion. When the missions of Robin and John and Marian and her husband Will (Jamie Dornan), who she married in Robin’s absence, intertwine a dark conspiracy comes to light and a revolution is born.
Changing up my reviews a bit I decided to drop the “What Worked” and “What Didn’t Work” labels and instead call these sections what they really are, the positives and the negatives of the film. With that in mind I’ll admit I didn’t take away a lot from “Robin Hood”. Overall, it’s a very bland project, BUT that doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun watching it. It has a lot of problems but “Robin Hood” does offer some very entertaining action and some neat new personalities for familiar characters we are used to seeing in a more sophisticated light. The action scenes where Robin takes on the sheriff’s men are entertaining, even if only in the most basic way, with slow motion and slick archery skills worked in to add to the fun. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before but compared to the rest of this film this is the one cliché aspect that I can honestly say kind of works. Despite how messy this film is I never once looked at my phone or watch which, even with the best films, is a rarity for me so this film has that to its credit.
I can’t fault “Robin Hood” for trying something new either. As I said in the beginning putting a new, more modernized spin on legendary properties seems to be a growing trend in today’s film industry, but director Otto Bathurst and writers Ben Chandler and David James Kelly at least try to add something new to this frankly over-done story even if they fail to fully embrace their own creative visions. While the characters aren’t as complex as they are in other adaptations at least there’s SOMETHING hear to enjoy. Taron Egerton specifically is fun to watch as the titular outlaw even if the script and direction do him no favors. The idea of Robin Hood being a double agent and actually working alongside the Sheriff of Nottingham is an idea and spin on the character we’ve never really seen before, at least that I have never seen before, and it creates and interesting dynamic between the hero and villain as they play a cat and mouse game with each other throughout the film. Egerton isn’t the only actor who shines either. Tim Minchin as Friar Tuck and Jamie Dornan as Will are both also notable. Hell, Dornan is the only one capable of holding a consistent accent throughout the film so there’s that I guess. Overall “Robin Hood” has some charming aspects, but it has more negatives than positives.
While “Robin Hood” offers 116 minutes of decent action fun the unfortunate truth is it doesn’t really push this property in any new direction and when it tries it lacks the conviction to make it work. As I said I can’t blame this movie and its creators for at least trying some new things and a lot of times this adds some interesting ideas to the story including subverting how some of these characters are traditionally portrayed and introducing a lighter tone that doesn’t let the film take itself too seriously. Sadly it lacks any semblance of competent pacing or a consistent tone, choosing instead to examine the possibilities of its premise without fully embracing the potential of those ideas. This makes this new “Robin Hood” only as fun as you let it be giving fans just enough substance and charm to be passable without ruffling any feathers.
I’m reminded of another similar flop of a film from last year, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” which sought to retell Arthur’s legend with a more modern twist. That film too suffered from a lack of conviction to the imaginative story and an inability to find its footing while never truly respecting what made the material so great to begin with. That’s exactly why “Robin Hood” also doesn’t work. The filmmakers seem to have forgotten what made Hood such a great character in the first place and why his story remains so timeless. It’s alright to try something new but if you’re going to go in that direction do it completely and devote to the idea, don’t just touch on it and put out feelers to see if people embrace it. It doesn’t help that the screenplay really is a mess. It’s filled with cool ideas and creative concepts, but it really is all over the place with a chaotic flow with barely any attempt to settle on what it wants to be, where it wants to go and how it wants to get there relying on clichés and a basic script to take the easy way out.
With all that put on the table it’s almost pointless to focus on all the small things that make “Robin Hood” a mess too. First off, almost no one in this cast can keep a consistent accent. Eve Hewson, who plays Marian, shifts from an English accent to an American accent to an Irish accent throughout the entire movie never settling on one inflection despite being of Irish decent. She’s not the only one who can’t pick an accent, but definitely the most egregious. Also, I wasn’t very impressed with the bland and predictable takes Jamie Foxx and Ben Mendelsohn brought to John and the Sheriff respectively which to me does an injustice to two characters integral to the larger narrative. Then there’s the abundance of plot holes that rear their ugly head. For example, no one knows who the Hood is, but the same African American man with very prominent facial markings seems to always be trucking him around. Yet when that same man shows up with Robin in public NOONE PUTS THIS TOGETHER?!?!?!?! There’s suspension of disbelief and then there’s lazy writing. “Robin Hood” fits the later much more than deserving the former.
“Robin Hood” is a fun movie, but that’s all it is. It’s a bit of shameless escapism that has more promise than it does substance. There are some legitimately fun ideas explored in this film but none of them really pan out to be more than simply that, ideas. I did compare this film to last year’s failed “King Arthur” reboot but to its credit “Robin Hood” is more entertaining and a better film, but not by a whole lot. No matter how much fun you have watching this adventure it’s still bogged down by predictable storytelling that doesn’t embrace the imaginative concepts worked into the screenplay, a bland script that does the actors no favors and a lack of consistent tone or pacing. What could have been, and clearly was conceived to be a neat and unique modern retelling of a beloved hero’s origins only ends up being a bland take on a classic story so often told. Any attempt at reviving its popularity for a new generation needed to be much stronger and much better than this.