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| 22 November 2018 | Reply

Written by Ben Chandler, David James Kelly
Directed by Otto Bathurst
Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Jamie Dornan, Tim Minchin
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
5/10 for the confused plot, 9/10 for the action adventure, 1/10 for non-token representation, 0/10 for historical accuracy and we could go on and on…

Director Otto Bathurst has created an energetic and entertaining boys-own (in every respect) action-adventure fairy tale yarn with the latest in an incredibly long line of re-tellings (or in this case, pre-tellings) of the classic Robin Hood story, but it’s a world which doesn’t hold up to even the most cursory of scrutiny.

We meet the charming Robin of Loxley (played valiantly by the charming Taron Egerton) as he is torn from his love Marion (Eve Hewson, who has a black belt in smiling adorably and is the single actress with a speaking role in the entire film) when drafted by the sadistic Sherriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) to fight in the Crusades in Arabia.

The Sherriff here acts as King. He answers to no-one other than a Roman Cardinal who, in a sub-plot later in the film is somehow vaguely linked to collaborating with the enemy to create the war. The King of England warrants a few mentions, but the Sherriff’s army seems independent of any greater force and it’s all a bit confusing who they’re fighting for, really.

The poverty-stricken Nottingham, crushed under the totalitarian rule of the Sherriff, is also remarkably clean and heavily stylised – not to mention being capable of fashioning exquisitely high thread-count garments, even for the destitute to wear in their slums.

Whilst in the Middle East Loxley, fellow serviceman Guy of Gisborne (Paul Anderson) and their unit wage war against a Muslim army with weaponry that would be impressive even today. Historical accuracy be damned – rapid fire arrows shoot from Gatling gun-like contraptions with the force of bullets, dozens of soldiers die (bloodlessly, for the most part, as an aside) like stormtroopers, whilst the Nottingham troops wear tunics practically identical to modern flak jackets. It’s more Iraq war than medieval warfare.

After rebelling against war atrocities, Loxley is disgraced, injured and his property at home seized, but not before showing kindness to and freeing Moor John (a criminally under-utilised Jamie Foxx). When Robin does return home – now with John in tow determined upon revenge and ‘taking the Sherriff down’ – he takes up residence in his old mansion instantly and the Sherriff barely flutters an eyelid.

All this in the first twenty minutes or so… The truth is, this is a very confused film. Bathurst seems to be having huge fun referencing some of his favourite movies in various scenes. There is a little bit of a homage to The Matrix here, a little V For Vendetta there, a cool wagon chase that looks like the chariot race in Spartacus – even a training montage that reminds us of Rocky! A lot of the film also seems a heavy handed parable for countless politically-led global conflicts throughout history, not least the current Christian/Muslim antagonism being perpetuated to this day by chaotic and corrupt political and business and religious leaders.

For the religious roles, most of them just swan around in fancy robes eating and drinking, but Tim Minchin does okay as the humble and quirky Friar Tuck, but some of his jokes seem forced, as if they were parachuted in after the rest of the filming was done in an attempt to lighten the film; and F Murray Abraham is menacing but one-dimensional as the looming Cardinal.

As mentioned already, apart from Marion it’s a total sausage party, and representation be damned. Whilst Foxx’s presence warrants a couple of non-white extras with a token line or two, apart from Marion, women have no place in this world, it seems, other than to smile winsomely (something she also does a tedious amount of, but at least she is proactive in fomenting revolution – at least until she leaves current beau, the good-until-he-turns-bad Will (Jamie Dornan) and falls in behind Robin to become little more than eye candy).

Mendelsohn’s Sherriff is, oddly enough, the most fully developed character in show. During a couple of impassioned monologues (superbly acted, as always) we discover more about his background than literally every other character in the movie, so his anti-religious rhetoric and Gestapo-like fanaticism make a little bit of sense.

A fortune must have been spent on some of the fanciest medieval costumes since The Great Gatsby – especially for a gala ball which looks like it has been flown in by Tardis from the 1920’s.

The events in this film take place before the band-of-merry-men-living-in-a-forest-hideaway Robin Hood tropes that we are more familiar with, and a rather trite ending wraps everything up so neatly, that we’re sure there is a painfully obvious sequel already written, that we can go ahead and guess the plot of.

With so much of the budget gone into making Robin Hood look fantastic, there’s far more style than substance here, to the point that there seems little to do other than switch off our cognitive reasoning, lean back into our comfy chair and let the fantasy action wash over us. From that perspective it is an undeniably entertaining ride – just don’t start thinking about the mished and mashed more-holes-than-a-colander plot, it’ll only spoil the film for you.

Category: Movie & Theatre Reviews

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