by The Collected Mutineer
I’ve written about Robin Hood retellings on this blog in the past, particularly about why The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) is by far my favorite movie adaptation of the classic folk tale. If you’re familiar with my thespian rantings, then you also know that the story of Robin Hood has been retold approximately 70 times for film and television audiences. Each retelling attempts to bring its own magic, bravado, and nuances to the heroic antics of a man who robs the rich to feed the poor. At least, they try to—some more convincingly than others. So does the newest adaptation starring Taron Egerton and Jamie Foxx hit its mark? In short, they didn’t load the arrow correctly and managed to shoot themselves in the foot.
**this review is relatively spoiler-free**
To be perfectly blunt, this film doesn’t know it’s own identity. It appears at first glance to be a modernized retelling, or perhaps a post-apocalyptic one. In the opening monologue, we are told specifically that the narrator will not disclose the year—implying that it may not take place during the reign of Good King Richard. The clothing and set design also appears to be distinctly not-medieval. It reminded me of something possibly inspired by A Knight’s Tale. But where the latter employed the use of classic rock music and nods to popular culture like the Nike symbol on Henry’s armor throughout the film, Robin Hood stops just short of that and leaves the audience in a confused state. Why are Crusaders dressed in combat gear so like what our soldiers wear today, but there is no mention of machinery or modern weaponry? Why do arrows fly like bullets? Why is that one dude wearing a windbreaker that looks like something I could buy at Kohls? I found myself as a viewer who could not suspend their disbelief for a sheer, desperate want of world-building.
I kept waiting for something about the story-telling to pull me from my confused stupor, but nothing worked. It became clear that the characters and their surroundings were not well developed enough to keep me from being distracted by the lack of a time period and the weird clothing. The dialogue was drab and unfunny; the attempts at being edgy fell short; the changes in the story felt forced and tiresome. Even Taron, Jamie, and the lovely Eve Hewen as a headstrong Marian couldn’t save it. It wasn’t until the end that I could finally see what the film had been trying—and ultimately failed—to do.
Best I can make out, Director Otto Bathurst and writers Ben Chandler and David James Kelly wanted the timeless story of a do-gooder to make sense in our modern world. They used heavy-handed references to invading and dangerous caravans, tax cuts for the wealthy, useless foreign wars, and images of police vs citizen riots to bring the story of Robin Hood to 2018. Sound familiar? The problem is, they didn’t need to modernize it…or whatever it is they tried to do. The beauty of Robin Hood is that it will always hit home. No matter the year, no matter the government, no matter the economy, there is something appealing in the idea that a group of people is doing the right thing, no matter what the law states. Law does not always equal truth or morality, and that’s what’s at the heart of the Robin Hood origin story. It’s about corruption in high places. It’s about breaking the law to do the right thing. It’s about the plight of the common citizen at the hands of those who ought to be public servants. Yes. It is familiar. And we didn’t need this farce of a retelling to get that across.
Like the story of Robin Hood? Then do yourself a favor and watch a previous incarnation. This adaptation isn’t one for the storybooks.