My car needed some work done, so I hoofed over to the nearest movie theater to kill some time. There were only two movies starting that early in the day. One was some steroid-infused comic book superhero kind of thing, which you couldn’t have paid me to watch. The other was called Robin Hood.
With a name like that, how bad could it be? The story of Robin Hood is an important part of our mythology and maybe our history as well. Every decade or so, someone tries again with a remake and a new twist, most of them enjoyably adding to its deep lore. Any movie that begins with such a rich grounding cannot go too far off the rails, can it?
Never say never. I felt like I’d walked into the steroid-infused comic book superhero movie, only this one justified itself with the title of Robin Hood. For once, I wish there were someone controlling that trademark, since they sure wouldn’t have let it be this poorly misappropriated.
For better or for worse, I hadn’t read or watched any reviews prior to walking in to see Robin Hood 2018. If I had, I probably would have taken a good book to sit in a coffee shop instead. It would have been a better use of my time. But then I would not have had the chance to write a scathing review, which is a different kind of entertainment.
Henceforth, I will refer to this rubbish as Robin Hood 2018, adding that year to its title to distinguish it from the broader legend. The moviemakers were too pretentious to even add a subtitle. Yet their product does not earn the right to use the name.
Here was an earlier version that actually used a subtitle and did not take itself seriously. RH Men in Tights from 20th Century Fox.
Without more ado about nothing, I’ll proceed to review the film. To borrow a line from Gertrude Stein, “there is no there there.” I’ll spare you the puns about robbing my time or stealing the price of a movie ticket, but do yourself a favor and don’t waste your own resources on this. The only exception would be for movie fans who love Jamie Foxx and need to watch anything he is in, since he certainly shines in this movie, as usual.
By the second scene in Robin Hood 2018, the plot (to the extent there is one) has been revealed to its full extent: good vs. evil and an inevitable tumble towards an epic battle between the two that will never actually resolve the fact that these counterparts always remain in a constant struggle. Good = simple people who work hard and barely scratch out a living. The working poor. Evil = a longer list, but basically the Sheriff of Nottingham as the stand-in for every political dictator and industrial magnate who uses military and financial might to suck all the money he can from the working poor. He does so with the justification of spending the money on a Holy War on behalf of the church. And in this movie, the church stands firmly on the evil side of the pews with all of its twisted purpose and manipulations.
The church’s main representative here is a cardinal who drips with evil. One of his first lines (and I’m paraphrasing) is something like: “Fear is our most important weapon. That why the church created hell.” So much for subtlety. There is none to be found in this film.
By the way, here's a video trailer:
From the beginning, the costumes and architecture are clues that Robin Hood 2018 has no grounding in time or place. They begin looking acceptably medieval, but then from the castle walls, you notice an ugly high rise in the distance. It gets weirder when the Sheriff of Nottingham crashes the period party wearing a gray suit coat with an odd clasp; it’s just the kind they sell at the Jos. A. Bank outlet store on the planet Lah’mu. Instead of creating a new outfit, I think they paid a cheap tailor to re-jigger Ben Mendelsohn’s costume so he could wear the same thing he used on the Rogue One movie set. They also coated it in naugahyde (too bad Armani doesn’t do polyester). Other characters soon start wearing button down shirts and quilted jacket liners.
The sets get even weirder. For most of the movie, surroundings are dominated by wood frames and scaffolding to befit the mine where the proletariat toil. Then there is the crumbling castle that could fit into the first half of any Disney princess flick.
But when you see the town from above, it begins with an upper crust that’s more like a video game than anything I've seen in England. The roofs and their various segments land somewhere between Beijing and Dubrovnik. East slides into West as the camera pans down and we see the walls. Suddenly, we’ve been transported to the European Middle Ages (again?), complete with crusades banners. The heroes delight in using medieval Christian paintings for target practice later in the movie. Did I mention the moviemakers don’t care much for organized religion? Nor art nor culture, apparently.
There is an early scene during the Crusades in the Middle East, and even after we return to Old Mother England, Nottingham retains a strong thread of Araby. The people, the dress, the way life is depicted: at times, Nottingham feels like it’s set in the Middle East or North Africa. Then the cold, white, and coal mines create some reasonable doubt.
So the viewer realizes this: Robin Hood 2018 is set in every time and place. The struggle of good and evil happened centuries ago in deserts and coal mines. And it’s still happening every day around us. And the futuristic costumes suggest it won’t end today. The poor are bled and worked to death to feed someone’s wealth and power. And if the villains pretend they are comic book caricatures and squeeze the people too hard, then they’ll end up inciting rebellions rather than creating a more sustainable status quo where they can rape and pillage for longer periods without protest. The smart virus doesn’t kill its host.
If you want to play dress-up and pretend this is Robin Hood, then the characters have familiar names. There is a Robin of Loxley, a Marian, a John, Will, and Friar Tuck. You won’t recognize them, nor does the archery rescue anything about this unfortunate film. It’s simply an excuse to turn a rich legend into another steroid-infused comic book superhero thing, chock full of needless shooting and destruction. The title character has no character development, but the actor does a palatable job of existing. Maid Marian and the others are acceptable enough. My favorite character was Jamie Foxx as John; he is a terrific actor and fun to watch. I also had high hopes for Friar Tuck, who reminded me of a warm Steve Buscemi in dreadlocks. But though Tim Minchin brought life to the role, it wasn’t enough to save anyone’s soul.
This movie was dark and violent. It had no wit and no guile. Taking from the rich and redistributing to the poor should be fun amidst an undercurrent of necessity. This movie missed Robin Hood’s spirit entirely.
The setting for the real legend, Sherwood Forest, did not appear until the final scene. That was the first time I saw a tree. For turning the rich tale of Robin Hood into an urban street fighting mess, the new Sheriff in town hereby sentences these filmmakers to be strung up between real trees with apples on top of their heads. Send out some real Agincourt archers dressed in As You Like It costumes and quoting lines from Monty Python with minstrels playing and jesters spinning cartwheels. That would be more fun to watch.
Promotional movie images and screenshots from the Robin Hood 2018 film come from Lionsgate, which should be ashamed for green lighting this piece of trash.