The Sheriff of Nottingham is throwing a big party, and Maid Marian asks Robin Hood if he’ll be attending. She tells Robin she “got an invite” to the party, and at that point I think I mentally checked out of the new Robin Hood. It’s bad enough that people use “invite” as a noun in 2018. But unless this is a Mel Brooks version of ye olde tale, using current slang to tell the Robin Hood story qualifies as an automatic tune-out.
The saga of Robin Hood has been around for almost a thousand years, and if it can withstand Kevin Costner’s accent, it can withstand this haphazard new film. The emphasis here is on a youthful Robin, an origin story that shows us how he came to be the legendary robber. Taron Egerton (from the Kingsman movies) plays the privileged Robin of Locksley, who quickly meets and woos Marian (Eve Hewson, Bono’s daughter) before being rudely shipped off to fight in the Crusades. There he finds a Moorish mentor called John (Jamie Foxx), who tags along on the trip back to England. This leads to a drawn-out training montage, as is traditional with these kinds of movies. Many, many arrows are unleashed in the process.
Robin begins talking about redistribution of wealth, and tries to forget Marian, who—thinking him dead—has hooked up with Will Scarlet (Jamie Dornan, the Fifty Shades guy). As ever, there’s the greedy Sheriff, played by the great Ben Mendelsohn (late of Darkest Hour) as a hissing snake. One of the film’s more unexpected moments is the Sheriff’s monologue about being a survivor of child abuse, which is taking the material quite a bit deeper than the usual Robin Hood romp. There’s also a bishop (F. Murray Abraham) who doesn’t mince words about the Church’s corrupt role in Nottingham politics.
Director Otto Bathurst comes from the small-screen world of Peaky Blinders, and keeps the action at a TV level of splashy costumes and helter-skelter action scenes. The “invite” to the party is hardly the only modern touch, as the movie aims for something like the jokey tone of Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur film, winking at the audience on a regular basis. I have no idea what Jamie Foxx is doing here, playing second fiddle to a bland Egerton. I can’t really blame the latter for not being Errol Flynn, and he’s trapped somewhere between the legit derring-do of Robin’s role in the resistance and the movie’s smirky attitude about the whole thing.
The film’s energetic pace keeps it from being a complete stiff, and the idea of the incognito Robin being known as “The Hood” for wearing a hoodie is pretty funny. It ends with Robin off to Sherwood Forest for the first time, a sequel strongly suggested. Yeah, maybe—but I have a feeling those arrows will stay in the quiver.