By: Kevin Jordan
A steaming wad of everything.
In what was one of the weirdest screening experiences of my movie-writing career, I saw the eighty-fourth (approximately) incarnation of Robin Hood, inspiringly titled Robin Hood. The good news is this latest version can be whatever you want it to be. War movie, comedy, action-adventure, romance, B-movie, spoof, fantasy, homage – it has it all. The bad news is this movie could not decide which of those things it wanted to primarily be. The only thing keeping it from being one of the worst films I have seen all year is that I saw the trailers and fully expected it to be a smoking crater of a film. So, I ended up enjoying it as ironically as is possible.
You know the story – Robin Hood steals from the rich and gives to the poor. Every version has dressed the story in slightly different clothing with tiny little tweaks around the edges, but the major plot lines and characters are always consistent. However, this latest Robin Hood is easily the most schizophrenic version of them all. It borrows heavily from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and, strangely, from Robin Hood: Men in Tights. One moment it takes itself seriously, the next moment it throws a pie at its face. One scene features a gritty war scene straight out of The Hurt Locker, followed later by a scene spoofing the lobby shootout from The Matrix. It is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…and Larry, Curly, Moe and Kevin Costner and General Schwarzkopf.
I probably should have hated this movie, but there were just enough winks and nods at the audience that I forgave it for being a bucket of flopping fish. How can you not laugh at a car chase scene where the cars are horse-drawn wagons swerving around corners and crashing into each other? How can you not giggle at watching multiple scenes in which horses crash through heavy wooden doors as if the horses are not conscious animals that would definitely stop before hitting the door? How can anyone not guffaw at a machine-gun turret in which the turret is a machine-crossbow? Seriously, The Matrix-lobby-shootout-homage almost had me in tears. The unintentional/intentional comedy of this film is a solid eleven.
You can see the levity in the performance of most of the actors as well. Taron Egerton (Robin Hood) is clearly having the time of his life, which is saying something after starring in two Kingsman films. He gets to run around shooting arrows, jumping off things, and letting fly one-liners. Not to be outdone, Jamie Foxx (Little John) gets to play the mentor, one part stoic, one part wise man, one part sensei, and three parts one-handed badass. Even when he audibly quits on a middle-eastern accent in the middle of a sentence, you will acknowledge that of course he quit on the accent because this movie deserves no less.
Then, there is F. Murray Abraham (the Cardinal), relishing an absurd villain role, chewing up his few scenes as only a classically-trained, award-winning actor can. He was so inspiring that Tim Minchin (Friar Tuck) decided to play Tuck as if he was always on his third bong hit, which explains why this movie sometimes felt like a lost episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast missed the epiphany. Eve Hewson (Maid Marian) simply gave up on her role, as the character had all the development of a zygote and the charisma to match. Jamie Dornan (Will Tillman) played his character as if he was still playing Christian Grey, a look always in his eyes like he cannot figure out why Marian is not getting naked. Given the severe shallowness of both Will and Marian’s characters, we are wondering the same thing, but about both of them.
But, none of them compares to Ben Mendelsohn delivering a Sheriff of Nottingham best described as if a used wad of chaw morphed into a human. His first speech to the people of Nottingham is straight out of the Republican/Fox News fearmongering playbook, yelling at poor people that the rich must have the poor people’s money or the Muslims are going to flood their homes, steal their jobs, and decimate their culture (I wish I was making that up). The problem is that his delivery is such that we cannot tell if this is poking fun at the bullshit coming from conservatives or if the screenwriter/director actually believe that bullshit. From there, Mendelsohn devolves into snarling out nearly every line, most of which are descriptions of what he is going to do to people, one example being “I want the streets flooded with his blood (Robin Hood’s, just Robin Hood’s).” At least he never told someone he was going to rip off their head and shit down their throat, though you know he was thinking it with every line of dialogue.
There were a lot of other components in this film that could have led me down the path of anger and loathing. The evil plot is convoluted and nonsensical, even for a movie as obviously dumb as this one. The costuming goes from period to modern to Assassin’s Creed to Lord of the Rings. There is a massive mining operation in Nottingham where the thing being mined is never revealed and everyone lives in the mines, including Marian and Will. The opening war scene features Robin and another soldier moving through a house looking for enemies, brandishing their bow and arrow like a rifle or pistol, as if a bow and arrow are a close-quarters weapon instead of a ranged weapon.
In the third act, after the Sheriff orders his soldiers to steal all of the poor people’s stuff, burn down the mines, and kill everyone (all of which they fail to do), none of the soldiers or Sheriff notices when the entire town gets to together, on multiple occasions, to plot a revolt. And, when Robin turns up in town four years after leaving for war, and two years after the Sheriff confiscated Robin’s estate, the Sheriff does not question where Robin is suddenly getting mounds of money from. If I did not know better, I would think this movie was purposely made for me to shred into little pieces.
As Robin Hood movies go, this one is definitely in the argument for worst adaptation. Some people would argue the 2010 version is much worse, but that version was so benign that everyone forgot about it within hours of watching it. The 2018 version could have been a great popcorn flick if it had embraced more of a satirical portrayal, doing more things like Robin knocking four arrows at a time (channeling Mel Brooks and Cary Elwes) and less things like Will expressing his political aspirations as a man-of-the-people. Maybe the eighty-fifth incarnation will finally get it right.
Rating: Definitely ask for all of your money back since no actual Robin will steal it back for you.