Years ago, there was a perfectly delightful mash-up of pop songs and medieval literature in A KNIGHT’S TALE, a frothy entertainment in which David Bowie met Geoffrey Chaucer. It succeeded for many reason, not the least of which is that it didn’t take itself too seriously. Alas, ROBIN HOOD, a similar foray into unexpected juxtaposition, does just that as it seeks to retell the tale of its eponymous hero as a metaphor for everything that is wrong with politics in the modern era. Despite Taron Egerton’s boyish charm as Robin, and Ben Mendelsohn’s smooth malevolence as the Sheriff of Nottingham, this benighted effort is an earnestly lugubrious thing that fails to spark even as things go up in great whooshes of flame.
Here, Robin, or Rob as Marion (Eve Hewson and not Maid in any sense of that word), calls him, is a veteran of the Crusades, using his position as the nobleman, Robin of Loxley, to conceal his secret identity as The Hood. It wasn’t his idea, but rather that of the Muslim soldier (Jamie Foxx) who snuck into England for express purpose of having Rob battle the rich, not so much to give to the poor, but rather to stop England’s war in the Middle East that everyone’s taxes are financing. Rob’s motives in going along with this grandiose scheme may in part be about doing the right thing, but he’s also spurred on by the hope of winning back Marion. To be fair, everyone thought Rob was dead when she took up with Will (Jamie Dornan), a budding politician hoping to negotiate a better life for the miners of Locksley by negotiating with the ruling class oppressing them as represented by the Sheriff and the Church. Marion, you see, is a direct-action activist centuries ahead of that term, and much given to making whoopee with the men who share her dialectic. She also shows a whole lot of cleavage in both roles.
The plot is a muddle of melodramatic scenes punctuated jabs at modern politicians who whip up the hoi polloi to new heights of religious bigotry with purple jingoism, and of flashy bits of action that make the most of slo-mo, quick-mo, and anything that burns. Or blows up. Or both. Any hint of historical accuracy is also blown up with the introduction of archery version of the machine gun. That pops up during the Arabian war sequence, which is an homage to THE HURT LOCKER and its ilk, right down to the uniforms our invading Crusaders wear and the choreography of their troop maneuvers.
Style is the governing principle at work here. Costumes are puckishly, yet not unstylishly, unmoored from any particular era. Then there are spaces in which they romp, from the ersatz THE HURT LOCKER we return to a Nottingham, which the hysterical art direction has rendered into a cross between Weimar Germany and the imaginings of Hieronymus Bosh, with just a dash of BEN HUR (the Wyler version) thrown in. And that’s before we get to the nod to THE ITALIAN JOB (both versions). As for F. Murray Abraham as the Cardinal in cahoots with the Sheriff, he does his own personal homage to the part he played in THE NAME OF THE ROSE. It’s all very silly in a spectacularly unengaging way as we learn about hypocritical clergy, corrupt politicians, and the general moral turpitude of anyone with a crumb of power. Kudos to Tim Minchin for making Friar Tuck a bright spot in this otherwise misguided mess.
ROBIN HOOD leaves us with the promise of a sequel. Please, in the name of Errol Flynn. No. Just no.