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 anti-hero 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), the less likely you are to enjoy what amounts to a chilly and flavourless frappé of historical speculation, revisionist folklore and every lazy action-movie cliché written.
“This is not gonna end well,” says our hero’s sidekick, Friar Tuck (Tim Minchin), early in the film. His prediction turns out to be 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, and the first of many gratingly anachronistic lines of dialogue.
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 spoilt, upper-class toff of a protagonist as a disaffected war veteran.
Returning home wounded from the Middle East, 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), Robin carries 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.
There’s one problem with the constant need to reinvigorate the classics. Director Otto Bathurst’s Robin Hood gives us a Prince of Thieves who is so made over for the modern moviegoer that he’s virtually unrecognisable.