‘Robin Hood’ Review: A Fascinating Misfire That’s Still a Lot of Fun

So I’m posting this on my personal blog because there’s no outlet right now that’s saying, “Please, tell us about 2018’s Robin Hood.” Even in 2018, no one was like “Please tell us about 2018’s Robin Hood,” which is probably why the movie made less than $100 million worldwide even though it cost $100 million to make (to the director’s credit, the film does look expensive with its big practical sets). Even Summit, the studio behind the film, didn’t seem to care that much as they didn’t bother to screen it for critics, which is why I’m just seeing the movie now.

And it’s kind of…good? It reminds me of another much-maligned public domain action movie, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Both were intended to be the start of cinematic universes until that idea fizzled and they just became very stylish retellings that attempt to make the medieval setting seem cool. For King Arthur, it dives into the fantasy weirdness, but Robin Hood is a different animal.

The concept behind Robin Hood seems to be “make it modern but also make it medieval.” And director Otto Bathurst took that mandate literally. The mashup doesn’t really work because the medieval stuff hangs like an albatross around the picture that seems like it would be more comfortable in the present day. So instead of making Robin Hood a rich kid who goes to the Iraq War, witnesses injustices, and becomes like a hacker or something to steal from the rich, he’s still an archer and he has to contend with enemies who have bazookas but the bazookas are filled with arrows. He has to take out a machine gunner but instead of firing bullets, it fires arrows. It’s so weird.

And yet I’d rather see a movie that takes big, weird swings than something rote and predictable (thankfully, we have 2010’s Robin Hood as a basis for comparison). But every creative choice in Robin Hood strains against something conventional. The film wants to get into interesting issues of wealth and war, but also Robin of Loxley has to do a Bruce Wayne/Batman thing. The film wants to talk about wealth distribution, but there needs to be a heist element. And it’s not like Robin Hood is opposed to these choices, but they feel conventional in a film that through its attitude and visuals looks like it wants to be different.

Despite this ambivalence, the movie still manages to be a lot of fun. No one seems like they’re phoning it in, which I’m sure may have been tempting at the prospect of a blockbuster Robin Hood movie that wants to play like Batman. Taron Egerton is particularly game (he’s a very charming actor) and Ben Mendelsohn treats the villainy with the same glee and devotion as he did in Rogue One. There are also some scenes that are genuinely great like when the Sheriff of Nottingham psychologically torments John during an interrogation.

I also like that the script is unafraid to make changes to the myth (another similarity to King Arthur). They drop characters who aren’t necessary (like King John) and make big changes to others like having Marian and Little John be activists. And Bathurst is bold enough to channel the imagery of war and rebellion to his purposes without it feeling cynical or exploitative.

If you passed on Robin Hood because you thought it looked dumb, I strongly encourage you to give it a shot. It’s far from a perfect movie, but it’s consistently interesting, entertaining, and a different take on well-worn material.

Rating: B

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019 criticism, movies

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