Robin Hood modernizes the classic story with some new ideas that don't always work, but the tale of an outlaw hero is buoyed by Taron Egerton's charm.
The story of Robin Hood has been told and retold over and over again throughout all forms of media for centuries. In the modern era, there have been numerous film and television adaptations of the legend, all of which follow the same basic premise of an English lord who returns from the Crusades to find his family house in ruin. He then turns to vigilantism armed with a bow and arrow to take from the rich and give to the poor. The English folktale has been passed down since the 15th century (though the story dates back as far as the 13th century) and has enchanted listeners throughout the ages. Now, a new retelling of Robin Hood is hitting theaters with another interpretation of the classic tale. Robin Hood modernizes the classic story with some new ideas that don't always work, but the tale of an outlaw hero is buoyed by Taron Egerton's charm.
Robin Hood follows the young Robin of Loxley (Egerton), who lives a good life as the lord of a manor and who falls in love with Marian (Eve Hewson) when she tries to steal one of the manor's horses to give to her neighbor. However, Robin is drafted to fight in the Crusades and leaves the manor in Marian's hands. After four years of fighting in the war, Robin breaks when he sees his commanding officer, Guy of Gisborne (Paul Anderson), ordering prisoners be killed seemingly for the fun of it. Robin attempts to save one, the son of another prisoner, but Guy puts an arrow in Robin and sends him home to England. Once he returns, he learns the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) seized the Loxley manor because Robin was thought dead and Marian was thrown out.
Upon visiting Nottingham, Robin quickly realizes times are extremely difficult for the commoners as the Sheriff is taking all their money for his war tax, which ostensibly funds the Crusades. Robin also learns that Marian married another man, Will (Jamie Dornan), when she believed Robin to be dead. Frustrated by Marian having moved on and enraged by the Sheriff's actions, Robin is approached by the man whose son he tried to save in the Crusades, who goes by John (Jamie Foxx). With John's help and training, Robin becomes a local vigilante known as the Hood who steals from the Sheriff and gives to the commoners, all the while keeping up appearances as the lord of Loxley returned from the war to learn more about the Sheriff's plans. But, when Robin and John discover what the Sheriff is truly up to, they realize they'll have to do more than simple thieving - they'll have to spark a revolution.
Directed by Otto Bathurst (Peaky Blinders, Black Mirror) from a script by newcomers Ben Chandler and David James Kelly, Robin Hood will no doubt draw comparisons to Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Certainly, Robin Hood is a grittier, more modern take on a classic story that focuses much more on style and action than historical accuracy. But there's something to be said of the way Robin Hood reflects the particular time in history in which it's being released. This is a Robin Hood story that focuses greatly on the fact that the rich in society, the upper classes, tend to stay in power by stepping on the throats of the lower classes, by leeching money and resources from those lesser off. This Robin Hood is concerned with leading a revolution that sees the "redistribution of wealth" in Nottingham. Those themes get muddled at times in the movie by the romantic throughline, with Robin's true motivations for his actions a little unclear. But the idea that his vigilantism and his love of Marian are inexplicably linked works for the most part (as long as the viewer doesn't think about it too hard).
In addition to tapping into the modern unrest between the classes in society, Robin Hood also brings the folk character's inspiration of comic book superheroes full circle by delivering a compelling vigilante origin story. Given the popularity of superheroes in Hollywood over the last decade, moviegoers have seen a great deal of origin stories play out, and Robin Hood follows that formula to the letter. That means Robin Hood has a training montage, Egerton gets the requisite shirtless hero scene, and the movie plays up his dual identities. Of course, while Robin Hood is one of the oldest vigilante stories, the fact that Bathurst's movie clearly takes inspiration from modern superhero films may not work for all fans of the outlaw archer. But, for those who have wanted Marvel Studios to release a Hawkeye movie (or DC to do a Green Arrow movie), Bathurst's Robin Hood provides realistic archery action that puts what we've seen from "superhero" archers to shame. Admittedly, there are moments in the second act where the action gets a bit lost in Bathurst's directing, but the actual archery is skillfully showcased. It all comes together in Robin Hood as the superhero movie some fans have been waiting for.
That's not to say there aren't weak moments in the script, which veers into ham-fisting the movie's message into the dialogue or contriving scenes to move the story forward, but these are counteracted with the performances of the film's leads. Egerton easily has enough charm and charisma to pull off the various sides of Robin needed for this movie to work. He can play the lovesick man, the outlaw archer and the pompous lord (though he struggles a bit with that last one, largely because he's actually too charming to come off pompous and because it's clear Robin is meant to have trouble with that role as well). Egerton also has an exceptionally strong supporting cast, with Foxx as the mentor to Robin and Mendelsohn as the foil/enemy of Robin. Their performances are equally as charismatic as Egerton's, helping to elevate the film. Further, Hewson is given more to do as Marian than other actresses who have portrayed the character and she excels in the role. The main cast is rounded out well by Dornan and Tim Minchin as Friar Tuck, but they aren't given quite as much to work with in the script.
Ultimately, Robin Hood is a fun - if not altogether necessary - reimagining of the classic story that taps into modern themes about the masses rising up to hold those in power accountable for their actions. These themes strike a very important chord for our current moment in history. But Robin Hood also finds a balance between those themes and giving the outlaw vigilante a compelling origin story that fits right in with the superhero blockbusters so popular in Hollywood. Robin Hood perhaps sticks a little too closely to the origin formula of superhero movies, especially since moviegoers have seen so many in the last decade, but the third act takes the story in a different direction. Although there are moments when the script and directing struggle to deliver a blockbuster worthy of IMAX (so that this movie isn't quite worth seeing in IMAX), the performances of the cast help smooth out the rough edges. Altogether, Robin Hood is a entertaining movie experience, with enough new ideas to set it apart from past adaptations of the folktale, some cool archery action and a charming-as-hell lead in Egerton.
Robin Hood is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 116 minutes long and rated PG-13 for extended sequences of action and violence, and some suggestive references.
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- Robin Hood (2018) release date: Nov 21, 2018