If you think a film set in an ostensibly medieval England where a rich kid leads a bunch of masked, hooded street activists with Molotov cocktails against soldiers in riot gear just has to be a parody, you’re right. But Robin Hood (directed by first-timer Otto Bathurst) is not a parody, it’s a head-thumping insult to the intelligence and about as much fun as the bubonic plague.
Taron Egerton plays Robin of Loxley about as well as the script permits, which is to say he is a charmless killing machine. Freshly back from the Gulf War – no, sorry – the Crusades where he dresses in what looks like a cargo-cult version of modern military fatigues, and with a hint of pseudo-poignant and narratively unnecessary PTSD, this Robin Hood is no merry man. Like Kevin Costner, he picks up a handy Moor (Jamie Foxx) to condescend to him and diversify his crew and accidentally proves the film’s Trump-analogue Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) right when he warns his subjects about the enemy coming back from the Holy Land to wreak havoc on England. There’s a pretty Maid Marion (Eve Hewson), but she’s only there for romantic-tangle plot reasons you won’t care about. Tim Minchin does a passable imitation of Bill Bailey as Friar Tuck, but doesn’t do anything else.
Let’s delve into the film’s deliberate anachronisms. There’s nothing wrong with this in principle, but it’s an innately frivolous thing to play with and lends inescapable nudges and winks to proceedings in ways that this film fails to tonally capitalise on. All the crossbows fire like machine guns. Nottingham is a flame-belching steampunk (stop this, please) labyrinth of walkways conspicuously perfect for parkour. Does this sound like fun? It isn’t. It takes itself far more seriously than it pretends to, and while it could have leavened its endless running time with visual gags, it just treats the sets like levels in a video game you don’t want to play.
I suppose I’ll just have to accept that we’re never going to have ethnically appropriate casts in period pop culture films again, but this film wants to have it both ways, with the Sheriff of Nottingham stirring modern xenophobic animus in a clearly harmoniously multiracial city. This film thinks having a Sheriff of Nottingham delivering nauseating anti-muslim tirades adds villainy to a Robin Hood movie, instead of just being glaring political opportunism that makes the whole enterprise feel like a misguided, inappropriate polemic. This is a movie with the budget of the Death Star that instigates hopelessly simplistic class warfare led by a member of the aristocracy. This isn’t too surprising as anarchist rabble-rousing has always been the preserve of overprivileged malcontents with a messianic streak. Hey, makers of Robin Hood talking about redistributing wealth, are you giving the profits of your film to the poor? Thought not.
It’s obvious the writers had played Assassin’s Creed, watched the Nolan Batman films, Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur, Prince of Thieves and some news footage and decided that was all that was required to pursue a career in film. Robin Hood traditionally steals from the rich to give to the poor, but this film steals lines from Batman Begins and makes you feel poorly. Even the score feels like an off-brand crib of Hans Zimmer. How bad is it? This is a movie that, for no reason any sane person can deduce, wants to be Prince of Thieves crossed with Guy Ritchie’s terrible King Arthur film but ends up being a self-serious and unfunny Men in Tights.