You’ve seen the trailer. You knew that the latest Robin Hood movie was going to be bad. It was certain to play loose and fast with the mythology and the history. That could, in theory, still result in a damn fine movie. I do love Legend of the Sword. But the most I was hoping for walking into the theater yesterday was the 2011 steampunk take on the Three Musketeers—a mildly enjoyable experience if you turned your brain off. My brain was turned off alright. I think watching Robin Hood left me with permanent brain damage.
This movie is terrible in every way, so buckle in.
Maybe not quite every way. There are exactly four decent ideas in the movie. But then the execution of each falls so entirely flat that a good idea actively makes the movie worse, so let’s just go back to terrible in every way.
Robin Hood starts with a meet cute. Robin catches a veiled thief attempted (badly) to steal one of his horses. On one hand, theft is bad, but on the other hand Robin has lots of horses and the thief is really hot (or at least he thinks the thief is really hot). That thief’s name? Marian. We should probably stop and be thankful here that anyone else from the legends showed up at all. (If she was a maid, it presumably did not last.) Robin and Marian enter a period of blissful romance. Had “And they lived happily ever after” popped up on the screen and the movie ended after five minutes, we would have all been better off.
But, alas, any happiness of Robin and Marian, and of the audience, are ill-fated. Robin must leave for the Crusades. Does this demand come in the form of a letter that literally has “Draft Notice” printed on it in big letters? Yes. Yes, it does. But don’t worry—they printed it in Ye Olde Merry England font, so it is okay.
Cut to Robin in trouble. We know he is in trouble because he is in “Arabia,” and the Crusades were fought in the Levant.
Why is Robin in “Arabia”?
- The filmmakers think their target audience is too ignorant to know what the Levant is.
- The filmmakers are too ignorant to know where the Crusades were fought.
- The filmmakers really don’t want to say “the Holy Land.”
- The filmmakers want to make a political dig at Saudi Arabia because they are a US ally.
- All of the above.
Robin and the rest of his “unit” (command by Guy of Gisborne) run around like modern soldiers clearing buildings. Arrows are nocked and bows fully drawn at all times.
Why do English soldiers keep their bows fully drawn at all times?
- The filmmakers have no idea what they are doing.
- The filmmakers erroneously thought it would look cool.
- The draw on every bow in this movie is approximately 8 pounds.
- You never know when a Saracen is going hit you from above with a crossbow that has been easily modified to fire fully automatic.
- All of the above.
Oh, and the English call in catapult support like it’s a fricking air strike. The sheer audacity of that might look good on paper, but don’t get the wrong idea: it still sucks.
Jamie Foxx’s character—we’ll call him “John,” because having an Azeem and a Little John in one movie is a tad too ambitious for the target audience—kicks Robin’s tail in a fight but is captured nonetheless. Back at the base, he is almost forced to watch his son die before Robin Hood steps in . . . completely ineffectually. John’s son dies regardless, but John is impressed by . . . something? Look, we need him to join up with Robin for plot purposes.
Robin, of course, faces no consequences for his actions because he is a lord (he even gets sent home!). Which seems like it cuts against the point of the mythos, but this is not a movie that has any problem with the rich so long as they have the right politics. John stows away and then somehow follows Robin all through England. None of this makes any sense, but roll with it. We certainly don’t want the movie explaining anything.
Robin arrives home to find that his manor has been seized, which has no relevance whatsoever, since he still lives there, so we will just move on. As Marian did, taking up with a politician named Will. Does this political career make any sense whatsoever in context? Yes, because without it, how could the Sheriff serve a ham-handed stand-in for Trump?
I’ll ease up on the exposition here. But don’t think for one minute that means the movie picks up the usual story. Robin Hood is much more interested in ripping off superhero movies than ripping off other Robin Hood movies. “Rob” plays the noble fop Robin by day, and the thief-of-the-people Hood by night. Which is an idea that didn’t suck when Batman did it. Robin uses the money he steals from the Sheriff to buy his way into his inner circle. Which would work better if (1) Robin wasn’t destitute and without an apparent source for the money he throws around and if (2) his daytime activities had any relevance in the end.
Don’t get me started on the wardrobe.
Robin Hood is a movie that doesn’t care even a little. It recognizes that wearing a scarf across your face isn’t the best disguise in the world. It doesn’t recognize the disadvantage in being seen during the day with a black man with distinctive facial scarring and then taking him with you on your nightly thieving, presumably because the issue hasn’t been raised in a superhero movie.
What inspired the plot of Robin Hood?
- Watching that real life Legolas YouTube video.
- Repeated rejected applications to direct an episode of Arrow.
- A burning hatred of the Robin Hood legend.
- All of the above.
I’m not kidding about the real life Legolas thing. I know that the filmmakers watched this video because they hired him as a consultant. There is an interesting idea there about the superiority of Saracen archery over the traditional longbow for urban warfare (oh, Nottingham is also a giant city because the filmmakers haven’t seen any superhero movies set in rural areas), but the execution consists of John telling Robin that his bow is trash and that he needs a bow that is “street.”
This movies does, I suppose, scratch that The-Kingsmen-but-Urban-Fantasy itch that nobody had. I think there is some merit to the arguments Lars makes about archery—especially about which side of the bow to put the arrow—but it makes for bleh set pieces. And is Saracen archery so superior when the guards all have repeating crossbows? (This movie would have been twice as good if they had added one reference to “assault crossbows.”)
The actors don’t even have the good grace to be openly embarrassed to be in this embarrassment of a movie. They think they deserve to be in a good movie. Foxx is the only person in this cast with any business being in a good movie, and an actor can’t make a movie good by sheer force of will. Robin Hood’s most remarkable accomplishment is being bad in ways you didn’t even know were possible. Robin Hood movies have a grand tradition of magnificent villains from Claude Rains’ Prince John to Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham to Richard Lewis’ King John. This movie does not add to that tradition. Before yesterday, I would not have believed that it is possible to portray a version of Friar Tuck who isn’t awesome. Rest assured, it is.
The filmmakers, by the way, despise religion. Or, more accurately, Christianity. By all indications, the Muslim John is the only man of faith in the entire movie. In the filmmakers’ world, all Christians are faithless, and the Church is a mustache-twirling villain of an institution. When Robin gets Tuck defrocked, Tuck thanks him.
If you think this all ends in an army of commoners-as-Molotov-cocktail-throwing-antifa, complete with scarves across their faces, going up against an army of guards-as-jackbooted-thugs, complete with riot shields, then (1) seek help and (2) yes, you are entirely correct.
Robin Hood simply does nothing well. There is no imagery on par with hundreds kneeling as Vortigern sweeps his hand in Legend of the Sword, for example. The set pieces are nothing to write home about. The attempts at humor got exactly one audible chuckle in the theater by my count. It doesn’t lean far enough into the fantasy or superhero opportunities afforded by abandoning canon to make something new and entertaining. The plot is largely nonsensical. The political metaphors are crude, over obvious message fiction of the worst sort.
The movie ends with sequel bait. As with the horse race across the rooftops, you could almost respect the audacity if it weren’t so pathetic.
Dammit. Now I need another palate cleanser. The Adventures of Robin Hood was my palate cleanser for the movie. I think I will make Legend of the Sword my palate cleanser for this review.