Remember the 2017 film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword? It was a Guy Ritchie film and Guy Ritchie’s style is only suitable for films about wisecracking gangsters. His King Arthur film was therefore a horribly confusing experience. It was hard to square the theme of King Arthur with the style that you would normally see in thrillers about heists. The film was full of montages and characters relating to each other how they escaped castles, while rhythmic music was playing in the background. And if this wasn’t enough, there were giant elephants and…
Oh well, why am I talking so much about that nightmare? Because someone somewhere decided to repeat this mistake. King Arthur flopped and so did 2018’s Robin Hood. And for the exact same reasons.
The director of Robin Hood, Otto Bathurst, also only has experience in directing crime series. His portfolio includes Criminal Justice and the Irish mafia series Peaky Blinders and now he inflicts that style on a medieval legend. The movie starts with a “forget what you think you know” and the narrator is so upfront about it that he uses the literal words. The year is “I forgot what year it is” because the clothes people wear and the way they act is all very modern.
Next thing you know, Robin is drafted for a crusade and finds himself in Iraq, wearing a military jacket and holding his bow-and-arrow forwards like a modern gun, while an Arab is shooting arrows from an arrow-machinegun and Robin has to call in air support from the stone trebuchets. I feel like the person who didn’t understand the joke, and apparently, neither did a large part of the audience. This medieval/modern mashup is one of Hollywood’s most confusing trends.
If you forget that this is Robin Hood and just enjoy it as an action movie, it works quite well. The visuals are good, scenes are well shot and Robin’s story is interesting enough to follow. He gets trained in the arts of the arrow by little John (Jamie Foxx) and robs the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) of his money. Mendelsohn is channeling his inner Gary Oldman (we all have an inner Gary Oldman) and is entertaining as the growling bad guy. Comedian Tim Minchin keeps his comedic side in check enough to not overwhelm his role as Friar Tuck. His role must be a big wink to those who know his opinions on religion.
There are also very few surprises to this story. No archery contest for Robin Hood here. He steals some bags of money, becomes a rebel leader and defeats Nottingham. And it is just a shame that if you misuse the Robin Hood name as a simple excuse to make an action movie, the least you could do is to offer something fresh and exciting, but this film has the most generic story you could come up with. So, that leaves the movie with a target audience that not only has to not give a crap about Robin Hood, but also needs to appreciate the most generic action stories. That’s a double insult.