Directed by: Otto Bathurst
Premise: English nobleman Robin of Loxley (Taron Egerton) returns from the Crusades to find that the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) has seized his possessions and oppresses the common people with taxation and violence. The nobleman robs the sheriff’s coffers and redistributes the wealth.
What Works: The 2018 version of Robin Hood is a high energy action picture that reinterprets the character and his mythology for a twenty-first century audience. Although this story is located in the past, it isn’t really a historical film. Robin Hood is deliberately anachronistic and does so for the sake of style and political messaging. This film is clearly influenced by the superhero fad and the filmmakers approach this as an origin story. The film is about Robin of Loxley becoming Robin Hood and the picture invites comparison to movies like Batman Begins and Iron Man. One of the most interesting qualities of 2018’s Robin Hood is its visual style. The art direction verges on steampunk; it’s an interesting mix of medieval and contemporary design. The visual style also serves a political end. This Robin Hood draws obvious parallels with contemporary events. Robin of Loxley is sent to the Middle East to fight a war and upon returning home he finds that the wealthiest members of society have enriched themselves at the expense of the common people. This is the Occupy Wall Street Robin Hood. The Middle East sequences echo recent war films like American Sniper and the climactic street fight recalls news footage of clashes between Occupy protesters and police. The political approach makes this Robin Hood unlike any other version of the character and the filmmakers deserve credit for making something fresh and relevant.
What Doesn’t: The new Robin Hood is so focused on the concept and the plot that the characters become an afterthought. Most everyone is exactly who they initially appear to be. The characters have little depth and they don’t really change over the course of the story. That’s especially true of Robin of Loxley. Instead of developing a conscience through his experience fighting in the Crusades and growing into his later role as a rebel leader, Robin begins the movie as a likable hero and continues that way throughout the movie. Actor Taron Egerton gives Robin Hood a likable swagger but he’s just not an interesting character. 2018’s Robin Hood also bends over backwards to accommodate its political allegory. That strains the film and it is quite dumb; in the Crusades sequence the English fighters hold their bows like contemporary soldiers hold firearms and they use bows and arrows as close combat weapons. The portrait of Catholicism is also troubling. While the Catholic Church has historically behaved as a political entity and did in fact encourage the invasion of the Holy Land by European armies, the demonization of the Catholic Church in Robin Hood is so over the top that it recalls the kind of hysterical anti-Catholicism that was much more common decades ago.
Bottom Line: The 2018 version of Robin Hood is not a great movie but it is entertaining and a fresh approach to this material. The movie is a bewildering mix of intelligence and stupidity; it deserves credit for its political relevance even though the filmmakers’ social consciousness leads to dumb storytelling decisions.
Episode: #729 (December 16, 2018)