By Kim Hughes
Stupid movies can also be fun movies, as ghastly gems Showgirls and Snakes on a Plane clearly prove. The frenzied and newly minted reading of Robin Hood fits well in that dopey-but-entertaining bucket.
Despite being about 15 kinds of preposterous, with medieval characters apparently styled by Prada and richly choreographed fight scenes lifted from the Matrix playbook — plus a shrugged adherence to the origin story — the film is weirdly watchable, and likely to resonate with younger audiences not beholden to musty storybook versions with codgers like Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe for whom the term “legend” didn’t instantly presage a selfie.
You have perhaps heard of the story. Though rich, privileged and positively knock-kneed over his girlfriend Marian (Bono’s kid Eve Hewson), our hero Robin of Loxley (Kingsman’s Taron Egerton) quickly distinguishes himself as a fighter of distinction and a man of honour. It’s the Crusades and the English are sticking it to those pesky Muslims who, in the first of many (and arguably centrepiece) fight sequences, use a kind of machinegun thingy to lob multiple arrows simultaneously. Death never looked so cool.
Even so, you can’t keep a well-coiffed white guy down, so when Robin intervenes mid-battle on behalf of the son of an enemy fighter (Jamie Foxx), an indelible if awkward friendship is born… alongside enduring enmity with the English military commander who we just know will reappear presently to exact his revenge on the miscreant soldier. Now as always with this tale, it’s crystal clear who we’re rooting for.
From there, Robin and the enemy fighter Little John (so dubbed because his real name just has so many vowels!) first practice fighting like Jedis (or, um, 12th century Arabs), then scheme to redistribute wealth among the people of Robin’s village who are being fleeced by the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn giving Eddie Redmayne’s arch Jupiter Ascending villain a handy bookend). Indeed, the great unwashed are just that, a point underscored by our clean and shiny stars. Even Marian’s what’s-his-name husband (Jamie Dornan) — whom she married thinking Robin dead, as one does — is slumming compared to Robin’s sleek runway-ready mien.
As he goes deeper, Robin Hood, as he is nicknamed, discovers a more nefarious plot afoot which matters mostly because it introduces a reliably scene-chewing F. Murray Abraham as the wildly evil Cardinal in cahoots with the Sheriff. But really, yada yada. Arrows fly, quips are traded, platitudes about loyalty and camaraderie are proclaimed — did we mention arrows fly? — and the film ends with an unmistakable setup for a sequel. Now that’s confidence.
The performances are committed despite the paint-by-numbers dimensions of the roles and there’s some genuine levity though many of the best lines are revealed in the trailer. Still, I couldn’t help but feel Game of Thrones has ruined it for movies set in some vaguely defined yet decidedly throwback romantic era where horses and knights and swords reign supreme. About halfway through Robin Hood, I really wanted a dragon, and maybe a smidge of hot sex, despite all the flashy murder and bad-ass rebellion. A little fire breathing goes a long, long way.
Robin Hood. Directed by Otto Bathurst. Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Jamie Dornan and F. Murray Abraham. Opens wide November 21.