THROUGH the years, there have been so many Robin Hood movies, starting with the silent film versions best exemplified by 1922 Douglas Fairbanks version and followed by the Errol Flynn’s movie in 1938 which a lot of folks say is the best Robin Hood movie ever. There are other versions starring Cornel Wilde, John Derek, Sean Connery, Kevin Costner and many more.
There are also TV series and animation versions. The last big movie on Robin Hood starred Russell Crowe in 2010. It was a critical and commercial disaster. Now comes the latest version, “Robin Hood”, starring Taron Egerton of “Kingsman” in the title role. It’s meant to be an origin story, just like the last “King Arthur” movie by Guy Ritchie which was so boring, so the narration at the start warns us: “Forget history. Forget what you think you know”.
The story starts when Robin of Locksley falls in love with Marian (Eve Hewson) but then, he is suddenly drafted to join the Crusades to fight the infidels in the Middle East. It seems like they are waging guerilla warfare and the opening sequence with a hidden deadly sniper reminds you of similar scenes in “Blackhawk Down” or “Saving Private Ryan”, only, this time, they used arrows instead of guns.
Robin is pierced by an arrow on the chest and Marian was informed he is dead. When Robin returns to his native Nottingham two years later, he learns that Marian has found another guy, Will (Jamie Dornan of “50 Shades of Grey”, fully clothed here.) Nottingham here is not an idyllic pastoral town like the Sherwood Forest of old, but an industrial mining hellhole.
It is ruled by the corrupt and evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn, the Australian actor in “Dark Knight Rises” and “Ready Player One”) who has heavily taxed the people while in cahoots with the church led by a scheming cardinal (F. Murray Abraham), who reveals that they are secretly funding both Christians and Muslims to keep the war going. What duplicity!
Robin then meets Little John (Jamie Foxx), a Saracen whose son he tried to save from being beheaded during the Crusades. John becomes his mentor in how to fight expertly, especially in using a high-tech bow and arrow that has the force and impact of bullets. He becomes The Hood, who steals gold from the Sheriff and his greedy allies then distributes them to the poor.
As Locksley, Robin also tries to ingratiate himself into the Sheriff’s inner circle and uncovers a conspiracy to subjugate his people who are already being abused and maltreated by the Sheriff and his ilk. The movie’s scriptwriters try to use modern ideas and language to update the film and take it to another level. The combat scenes show the archers rapidly exchanging whizzing arrows at close quarters, just like the gunfighters in “John Wick” flicks.
There’s also a wagon chase through the fiery mining grounds while Robin, Marian and John try to escape from the Sheriff’s cohorts, including the assassin, Guy of Osborne (Paul Anderson), who Robin hesitates to kill until the no-nonsense Marian finishes him off.
Taron Egerton does his best as the dashing Robin, but he’s better and more likeable as Eggsy in “Kingsman”, despite the risky stunts he did here as a freedom fighter seen twirling through the air while firing off multiple arrows into his enemies who are chasing him. Eve Hewson (the daughter of U2 singer Bono) has a radiant screen presence, but doesn’t really make much of an impression as a damsel in distress who becomes plucky enough to fight. Oscar winner Jamie Foxx is actually just wasted in a sidekick role that required little from him other than the scenes showing him training Robin.
Ben Mendelsohn shouting at his underlings behaves more like a president who is seeking reelection than an evil type autocrat during feudal times. Director Otto Bathurst (he’s a TV director and this is full-length film debut) tries his best to come up with something new and exciting to dress up an old and cliche-ridden formula, but nothing really hangs together convincingly. Sorry but it just didn’t work as he probably expected it to be. The ending with a good character turned bad is obviously setting up a sequel but since this movie didn’t do well at the U.S. box office, it’s hard to imagine its makers bankrolling a part 2 for this one.