(Lainey: The headlines about Robin Hood aren’t great. Forbes calls it the “most predictable box office bomb” of the year. The Telegraph says it’s the “biggest box office bomb since Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur”. According to Business Insider, it’s the “biggest box office bomb of the year”. Is that fair? Did it deserve better? Here’s Sarah’s take.)
At any given time, there are at least half a dozen Robin Hood movies in development, which means every few years one of these Robin Hood retellings (the last being Ridley Scott’s 2010 attempt to make an historically grounded drama out of it) comes along. The latest version is Robin Hood, which casts Robin of Loxley as an Antifa-inspired superhero that plays like a big-budget version of The CW’s Arrow—all that’s missing is Robin shouting, “You have failed this city!” as he rampages through Nottingham. The obvious touchstone is The Dark Knight, and there are references to that movie that are so blatant as to be plagiaristic, but between the bow and arrow, the hoodie costume, an ill-advised love triangle, and the blender-style editing, Robin Hood ends up more in the Arrow camp than its obviously desired Batman feel.
Taron Egerton plays the first British Robin since Cary Elwes. This Robin is a young punk drafted into the Crusades, staged to resemble modern-day warfare seen in the Iraq-Afghanistan wars and the Syrian civil war. Robin risks everything to save a young Saracen soldier, who turns out to be the son of “John” (Jamie Foxx), and here is where Robin Hood begins to be very strange. The first part of the movie is, despite the title, focused on John. It is obvious that at some point, this was a star vehicle for Jamie Foxx. And his character, John, turns out to be Little John, Robin Hood’s right-hand man. This is a lot of twisty narrative meant to make John as central a figure as possible, casting him as Robin’s mentor, confidante, teacher, and lieutenant. Why not just let Jamie Foxx play Robin Hood? If you’re going to make an ahistorical, anachronistic Robin Hood, why not just let Jamie Foxx play him? You want this to be a Jamie Foxx movie? Then let him be the main guy.
But he isn’t the main guy, so at some point the narrative focus HAS to shift to Robin, which is when the movie goes completely off the rails. And not in a fun way, either, in a baffling and boring way, which is the ultimate sin, really. Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur is bad, but it’s not boring. Robin Hood, however, is performed with the listlessness of a bunch of people who clearly do not want to be there. And every scene feels like the actors only just met one another—there is no camaraderie or chemistry anywhere in the cast. This is most painfully felt in the love triangle, which finds Marion (Eve Hewson)—no “maid” for this modern lass who is still given nothing meaningful to do or say!—caught between Robin, who she thought was dead, and her new beau, Will Scarlett (Jamie Dornan). In this version, Will Scarlett is a populist politician, encouraging peaceful resistance to the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham’s rule.
So Robin Hood obviously wants to say something about our current struggle with populism, nationalism, xenophobia, and also late-stage capitalism. The problem is, it doesn’t say anything about those things well. The movie co-opts the imagery of “the resistance” for Robin’s rebellion, and Will and Robin square off in a kind of slacktivist vs. agitator way, but none of it works or is effective. Part of it is because the movie is too messy to present a coherent argument, but part of it is the Robin Hood narrative itself. This is a bad vehicle to question capitalism because Robin, though on the outs with his government, is still a landed lord. It’s essentially a story of noblesse oblige, and while he’s into wealth redistribution, he is NOT into overthrowing the feudal society that privileges him. He just wants the Sheriff of Nottingham to vacate his castle. (Ridley Scott tried to solve this by taking away Robin’s title and it only sort of worked.)
Robin Hood could have been a fun, A Knight’s Tale-style anachronistic action movie, but instead it’s a politically confused story about a hoodie-loving trustafarian who, like, wants his sh-t back, bro. It’s got all the worst clichés of action movies from the last twenty years—quick-cut editing, Zack Snyder speed ramping, and everything happens in the dark—and also all the worst clichés of franchise movies—love triangles, sequel-baiting endings, Jamie Dornan. I haven’t gotten to Ben Mendelsohn’s performance as the Sheriff, but honestly, his brand is the right kind of ham for a movie like this, and everyone else was playing on his level, this could have been a good-bad movie. As is, Robin Hood is a bad-bad movie. On the upside, though, it should spare us from any more Robin Hood movies, at least until Disney decides to do a photo-real update of Fox Robin.