YOU BET YOUR SWEET ARROW! “ROBIN HOOD” IS A HEIGHTENED VIOLENT MEDIEVAL RIP-ROARING ADVENTURE.
“Robin Hood” is a tale that is almost literally as old as time. The earliest illustrations of “Robin Hood”, the mythical folklore thief who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, dates back from the 13th or 14th century. The character has benefited from several cinematic adaptations. Among the most famous are: “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938) with Errol Flynn, the Walt Disney animated “Robin Hood” (1973), “Robin and Marian” (1976) by filmmaker Richard Lester, “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (1991) starring Kevin Costner, Mel Brooks’s satirical “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” (1993) with Cary Elwes and director Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” from 2010, played by Russell Crowe. Now a 110 years after the very first “Robin Hood” film, “Robin Hood and His Merry Men” in 1908 we are given another big screen incarnation.
Like Guy Ritchie’s excellent 2017 “King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword”, this tries hard to do something new, bold, kinetic and exciting with an old formula. This version, directed by Englishman Otto Bathurst (best known for his work on TV’s “Peaky Blinders” and an episode of “Black Mirror”) presents us a “Robin Hood” for the superhero era. As reimagined here, Robin of Loxley is more a medieval version of Bruce Wayne, turned vigilante masked hero who is deadly with a bow and arrow.
“Robin Hood” 2018 is produced by Leonardo DiCaprio (yep that DiCaprio) and tells only a fraction of the full story. It is clearly intended as the first in a franchise. After a clumsy first 5 minutes, the story quickly builds up momentum with it’s first action sequence which is incredible. It’s a bravura sniper sequence with piercing arrows instead of bullets, which borrows from WWII or Military epics like “Saving Private Ryan” or “Black Hawk Down”. The sequence immediately clues us to how this “Robin Hood” is going to be told through thrilling and heightened violence.
“Robin Hood” is an origin story, with none of the new “Robin Hood” taking place in Sherwood Forest. It’s set in castle corridors and the streets of Nottingham, a vast medieval village where Robin returns after fighting in the Crusades. Robin of Loxley, enjoys a good life with his lover, Marian, before he is drafted by the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham to fight in the Third Crusade against the Saracens. When he returns to Nottingham, after being dismissed for trying to save a teenage boy during his time in battle. Robin learns from his old friend Friar Tuck that the Sheriff Of Nottingham had Robin officially declared dead two years prior in order to seize Robin’s land and wealth to continue funding the war effort at the behest of the corrupt Cardinal (played brilliantly by F Murray Abraham in a snarling and lecherous performance), kicking the citizens from the city and into the coal mine town across the river. Robin witnesses the commoners planning to rise against the government that oppresses and exploits them and learns that Marian is now involved with their aspiring leader, Will Tillman (“Fifty Shades Of Grey’s” Jamie Dornan). Robin is prevented from making contact with her by the Arab whose son he tried to save. The man introduces himself as Yahya, which he says can be translated to “John” and proposes that he and Robin work to end the war by stealing the money taken from the people to fund the church’s war.
Taron Egerton best known as Eggsy from the “Kingsman” films and who will be playing Elton John in the upcoming biopic “RocketMan”, plays Robin with a twinkle. Originally Jack Reynor (“Kin”), Dylan O’Brien (“American Assassin”), and Nicholas Hoult (“Warm Bodies”) had auditioned for Robin Hood before the role went to Egerton. He’s especially good when in the Robin of Loxley persona, posing as the sheriff’s ally who plays mind games with him. Egerton is charming and boyishly handsome, who maintains his accent for the duration of the film.
Along for the ride is Jamie Foxx. He is a ball of magnetic energy as John, the proud Arabian who loses his son in the Crusades, then stows away on Robin’s military ship and forms a mutually beneficial bond with him. Foxx brings his scenes to a raw fury that ignites the movie. Taron Egerton and Jamie Foxx are great together and I can’t wait to see when they make a buddy cop movie together.
A great hero needs a masterful villain to foil, and “Robin Hood” has got that. Ben Mendelsohn is the Sheriff of Nottingham. A truly fine actor who has gained much popularity in recent years. Unfortunately Mendelsohn has played this exact role so often it has become a caricature. However that’s not to say that Ben Mendelsohn’s performance isn’t short of sensational. He is wonderfully sneering and malevolent. His look is daringly out of period, looking like the General he played in “Star Wars Rogue One”, he has a neatly parted haircut and he speaks with a slight lisp of anger, turning the sheriff into an arrestingly logical fascist, armed with a backstory of childhood pain.
As Robin’s love interest Marian (played by Eve Hewson, U2’s lead singer Bono’s daughter) is earthier and more political and class conscious in this version. She has the chops to be the next big Hollywood actress. A lot of her scenes are an aspect of the film that is confusing is the love triangle between Robin, Marian and Will Scarlet. At one moment Marian is telling Robin she will wait for him; the next she is happily together with Will (she must have seen his play room).
Some of the elements from earlier “Robin Hood” movies are present while others are ignored or distorted. The battle scenes, are fought with bows and arrows and as depicted here feel like real battles. The arrows land and pierce with the force of bullets, destroying on contact. Bathurst gives us rollicking carriage chases, numerous shoot outs, bombs that are strapped to arrow tips, and a string of explosives are tied together at one point to create a primitive missile. A large sequence of the film is devoted to an elaborate heist right out of a Michael Mann movie like “Heat”, but with knives and axes instead of pistols and machine guns…this film is a blast.
The screenplay from first time screenwriters gives us a script that is similar to a medieval “Batman Begins”. The screenwriters treats “Robin Hood” as a 14th-century dark knight, a mystery avenger known as “the Hood,” with Robin of Loxley being his Bruce Wayne alter ego. Robin’s transformation from battle-scarred and traumatised veteran of the crusades into vigilante action hero takes place very quickly. Jamie Foxx is there to give him tutorials on how to “fight up close” using “street weapons” and how to shoot multiple arrows in seconds.
YouTube sensation Lars Andersen from Denmark was hired to teach the cast archery. Lars is famous for creating a YouTube video where he demonstrated extraordinary archery skills, earning him the nickname ‘Real Life Legolas’ (from “Lord Of The Rings”). Most notably, Lars is able to hit incoming arrows in flight and shoot and hit 3 marks while performing a single jump from the ground. To increase his speed he uses an ancient technique that requires him to shoot with his draw and not cross the arrow on the bow like modern archers do. This technique is used by Robin in the film.
“Robin Hood” has everything you want from a film like this including: a training montage, Egerton gets the requisite shirtless hero scene, and the movie plays up his dual identities. While “Robin Hood” is one of the oldest vigilante stories, Bathurst’s version clearly takes inspiration from modern superhero films and may not work for all of the fans of the outlaw archer. Bathurst’s “Robin Hood” provides realistic and impressive archery action that puts what we’ve seen from “superhero” archers to shame. Here is looking at you “Arrow”. The set and costume designs are 1/3 historically correct, contemporary, and futuristic to achieve the movie’s unique look.
In his depiction of the Crusades, director Bathurst deliberately reminds us of contemporary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The crusaders can’t cope with the guerilla-style tactics of the locals. The fight scenes are brutal. There are atrocities on both sides but the English are especially ruthless, torturing and killing prisoners. The film should absolutely have been rated R, I wish it was. At the film’s end it has a pretty damn good twist of villainy, while nodding toward a sequel which I would have to guess is set in Sherwood Forest.
“Robin Hood” is the grittiest version of the beloved character, and Bathurst gives it a Chinese war film look with a more modern take on a classic story, that focuses more on style and action than historical accuracy. Despite the poor reactions and disappointing box office with it’s $82 million gross against the production budget of around $100 million. “Robin Hood” is an entertaining movie experience, with enough new ideas to set it apart from the past adaptations, with incredible archery action and a charming-as-hell lead in Taron Egerton.
Kevin Costner’s “Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves” will always be the “Robin Hood” we remember, especially with the Bryan Adams tune as the theme song. Probably no version of “Robin Hood” will come close to being that good. We have Ridley Scott’s vision for “Robin Hood” (influenced by his own films “Gladiator” and “Kingdom Of Heaven”). Bathurst delivers a version of what Tony Scott’s “Robin Hood”, would’ve looked like and you bet your sweet arrow it is kinetic fun. Hollywood will churn out more versions of the character just as they do with “Sherlock Holmes”. If they turn out as good as this one in a planned and hopeful trilogy, then Robin Of Loxley is here to stay.
GRADE: ★★★1/2 OUT OF ★★★★★