“Robin Hood” gets right to the point: “Forget what you think you know,” a narrator tells us, before diving into this awkward attempt at reimagining the swashbuckling English antihero who famously robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, arrows flying.
I would take those words as a warning. The more invested you are in the old-fashioned Robin Hood of legend — here played by Taron Egerton, in a quilted, black-leather hoodie that makes him look like he stepped out of Barney’s on Madison Avenue, and not Sherwood Forest — the less likely you are to enjoy what amounts to a chilly and flavorless frappé of historical speculation, revisionist folklore and every lazy action-movie cliche ever written.
“This is not gonna end well,” says our hero’s sidekick, Friar Tuck (Tim Minchin), early in the film.
Tuck’s prediction turns out to be not only a prophetic review of the film’s tedious and bloated plot, which involves collusion between the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn), a larcenous Roman Catholic cardinal (F. Murray Abraham) and unnamed Arabs, but the first of many gratingly anachronistic lines of dialogue. Other ear-jarring examples include:
“What else ya got?,” “I wanna go big” and “Are we really gonna do this now?” Apparently, medieval people talk just like Dwayne Johnson in “Skyscraper.”
Set during the Crusades, the film is at heart just another superhero origin story, at first presenting its spoiled, upper-class toff of a protagonist as a disaffected war veteran. Returning home from the Middle East wounded, Robin finds his manor home in ruins and his love interest, Marion (Eve Hewson), seeking comfort in the arms of another man (Jamie Dornan). Marion presumes Robin is dead, see? (Judging by Egerton’s wooden performance — except when performing acrobatic stunts — she’s not far off.)
Egged on by Little John (Jamie Foxx), a Moorish stowaway who has come to England in hopes of ending the Crusades by cutting off their funding, Robin begins to carry out ever-larger heists of the state’s treasury. True to the Robin Hood myth, that money goes straight back to the people. Soon, that altruism inspires a grass-roots rebellion, with Robin leading the downtrodden masses in an armed uprising against an unjust tax system.
Does “Robin Hood,” with its subtext of populism, have anything to say about the current cultural moment? Doubtful.
It’s probably more helpful to think of the director Otto Bathurst as just a poor man’s Guy Ritchie, the filmmaker who never met a beloved character he couldn’t improve on. I’m thinking of Robert Downey Jr.’s turbocharged Sherlock Holmes and Charlie Hunnam’s steroidal King Arthur.
There’s just one problem with the constant need to reinvigorate the classics. Bathurst’s “Robin Hood” gives us a Prince of Thieves who is so made over for the modern moviegoer that he’s virtually unrecognizable.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains extended sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive references. 116 minutes.