Robin Hood review – beardless and bloated prequel should be outlawed

This CGI-heavy reboot steals ideas from other films but only gives back a cast of big hitters, including Ben Mendelsohn

The actor Taron Egerton is doing what sociologists might call a “reverse Kingsman” with this prequel-reboot of the Robin Hood myth. His Robin of Loxley is an athletic young Nottingham nobleman who makes common cause with the downtrodden; he becomes their outlaw action hero, sickened by their suffering and also incidentally by the crusader war he was forced to fight very much against his will, having received a rather quaint “draft” notice in ye olde lettering. He’s a Robin with proto-modern sensibilities. Robin comes back from this foreign horror to find his property looted and the people oppressed, and conceives a new righteous desire to hit back at the sneery tyrants of church and state.

This bloated, featureless, CGI-heavy movie is not so much stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, as stealing from Guy Ritchie, Batman, Two-Face and a few others – and not giving back all that much to the audience. There are one or two revisionist ideas here: chiefly, suggesting that villainy could be connected with child abuse. That thought is however raised merely as the pretext for a lurid and gloating threat of violence: another moment of misjudgment among many. It is also relatively unusual to see a young beardless Robin-before-Robin hero. Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe were all more mature Robins in their ways, and so certainly was Sean Connery as the older outlaw in Richard Lester’s silver-years reimagining, Robin and Marian. If Egerton resembles any predecessor it is the sleek and foxy Loxley in the Walt Disney animation of 1973, although with less depth and nuance.

Eve Hewson and Taron Egerton in Robin Hood
Eve Hewson and Taron Egerton in Robin Hood. Photograph: Allstar/Lionsgate

The “giving to the poor” half of the equation is always a boring business that Robin Hood films tend to skimp or omit: the only clear wealth-redistribution in this one comes with Robin’s meet-cute with Marian, played by Eve Hewson. She isn’t posher than him, being a villager caught by Robin trying to steal one of his many horses – but only for her poverty-stricken neighbouring farmer whose own horse had died. Her beauty and fiery passion entrance Robin; they fall in love, but are sundered by the war in “Arabia”, a very modern-style of combat with bows and arrows instead of M16s, and Robin experiences the brutality of his commanding officer Guy of Gisbourne (Paul Anderson) who is viciously cruel to a prisoner, John (Jamie Foxx) who stows away on his boat home and is to become a wise Yoda-type mentor to our young hero.

Back in Blighty, poor Robin finds that everyone thinks he is dead; Marian has fallen for Will Scarlet (Jamie Dornan) and Robin’s confessor Friar Tuck (an underused Tim Minchin) tells him that the whole place is under the thumb of the hated Sheriff of Nottingham, who is played, perhaps inevitably, by Ben Mendelsohn, striding about the place in a kind of buckled grey tunic outfit not dissimilar to his Star Wars costume. No less a figure than F Murray Abraham has a walk-on as the equally venal Cardinal, from whom no moral restraint can be expected.

There are some big hitters in this film, and to see both Mendelsohn and Abraham on the baddie team is to be intimidated to some degree. To think what these players could do if they had something more to work with in the material, perhaps material scripted by Minchin. But then director Otto Bathurst might be concerned that the Sheriff has to be tamped down, bearing in mind how utterly the late, great Alan Rickman managed to steal the spotlight from Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in 1991 in an unproarious comic performance that inspired Mel Brooks’s own spoof Men in Tights, with Cary Elwes.

No, this is a pretty serious and stodgy Robin with lots of very serious and extended action scenes created for laptop-digital landscapes. We see what looks like a gigantic network of picturesque, and frankly rather clean and spacious medieval streets, lacking only a visitors’ centre. Robin himself does not wear Lincoln green: it’s closer to a hoodie, which is at least appropriate.

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Ready Player One review – Spielberg spins a dizzying VR yarn
This spectacular gaming ride whizzes through a limitless futurescape – while also taking a puzzling detour to the shiny 70s and 80s

Peter Bradshaw

28, Mar, 2018 @2:47 PM

Article image
How the Robin Hood myth was turned on its head by rightwingers
The wealth-redistributing folk hero has traditionally been seen as a champion of the poor. But politicians have recently used him as a poster boy for tax cuts. What message should we take from his latest film?

Steve Rose

22, Nov, 2018 @1:07 PM

Article image
Good Boys review – gleefully bad-taste tween comedy
When a gang of goofy boys are invited to a spin-the-bottle party, their research into the mysteries of kissing goes horribly wrong

Peter Bradshaw

14, Aug, 2019 @12:00 PM

Article image
Early Man review – back-of-the-net triumph from Aardman
Nick Park’s hilarious family animation pitches the stone age against the bronze age in a prehistoric football fantasy

Peter Bradshaw

26, Jan, 2018 @12:00 PM

Article image
Ad Astra review – Brad Pitt on a thrilling Freudian space odyssey | Peter Bradshaw's film of the week
With echoes of Apocalypse Now and 2001, James Gray’s spectacular epic dispatches Pitt on an interplanetary mission to find his missing father

Peter Bradshaw

18, Sep, 2019 @12:00 PM

Article image
Isle of Dogs review – Wes Anderson unleashes a cracking canine caper | Peter Bradshaw's film of the week
Set in a dystopian Japan of the future, the animated story of a boy’s search for his lost pet is crammed with visual invention

Peter Bradshaw

29, Mar, 2018 @2:00 PM

Article image
Frozen II review – a charming return but the thaw's setting in
Beloved heroine Elsa has a great new song as she heads into the enchanted forest in this funny, likable but underpowered sequel. Is it time to let her go?

Peter Bradshaw

14, Nov, 2019 @5:03 PM

Article image
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker review – a thrilling, fun-filled, light-speed finale
Flying stormtroopers, lightsaber duels and a resurrected evil lord … the hugely entertaining final episode in the nine-film saga brims with euphoric energy

Peter Bradshaw

19, Dec, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
High Life review – Robert Pattinson heads for infinity and beyond | Peter Bradshaw's film of the week
An astronaut on an odyssey to a distant black hole faces the challenges of parenting – and existential panic – in Claire Denis’ mysterious drama

Peter Bradshaw

08, May, 2019 @12:00 PM

Article image
Captain Marvel review – Brie Larson kicks ass across the universe
Marvel’s superhero adventure veers from boomingly serious to quirkily droll as Larson wages a vicious war against evil aliens

Peter Bradshaw

05, Mar, 2019 @2:00 PM