Robin Hood (PG13)
Starring Taron Edgerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by Otto Bathurst
Robin turns into Batman.
Okay, it's not exactly that other Robin here, but you get the drift. You know you're watching a brand new take on Robin Hood targeting younger, dumber audiences when the narrator goes, “I could bore you with the history but you wouldn't listen .... It doesn't begin with the thief you know.”
Poor Robbin' Robin. His English folktale about stealing from the rich to give to the poor has been, well, stolen over the years for countless reboots and now even if this version admits that the original story is boring.
With Kevin Costner (1991’s Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves) and Russell Crowe (2010’s Robin Hood) as the archer-dodger, you get old guys. With Sean Connery (1976’s Robin and Marian), you get an even older guy.
This time with Taron Egerton (the slick neat Brit from those Kingsman super-agent flicks), you basically get a young punk outlaw. More precisely, with his hoodie disguise and a habit of popping up in the middle of the screen as an ominous shadow lurking in the dark; 2018’s Robin Hood is a cloned escapee from the superhero TV series, Arrow.
The dude is a rich young carefree English lord named Robin of Loxley. At first, it seems all he wants to do is to live happily ever after in his castle and have endless sex with his spunky bonnie-lass girlfriend, Marian (Bridge of Spies’ Eve Hewson). Yep, this ain't no dainty damsel-in-distress Maid Marian.
If you're a kid, it's cool to see the hero showing badass attitude here. If you're an old geezer, you'll be wondering where the hell are the damn trees? Forget about Sherwood Forest. There's just a town where the deprived masses sweat and toil in a dark giant mine and see no bright days. Kinda like Manchester United under Jose Mourinho.
Robin gets his entire world turned upside down when he's drafted to fight in a scary foreign land as a soldier in the king's favourite cause — the Crusades — whereupon we get our first real glimpse of updated things to come.
That's the draw of this revamped deal. Amp up the action so much, so fast and so CGI-ed — check out a sneaky robbery of the royal coffers and a really thrilling horse chase (oh, those poor overworked horses) atop rickety bridges – that you forget to ask: Hey, isn't this supposed to be a medieval tale about people in green tunics?
The whole thing, directed by Brit bloke Otto Bathurst (Peaky Blinders), looks like what Guy Ritchie did with his unrecognisable King Arthur: Legend of the Sword re-do last year. But less grimy, less in-your-face and plenty more predictable, mate.
Man, the fighting scenes at the start against stealthily hidden Arab enemies in — I don't know, Iraq, Afghanistan, maybe Saddam Hussein's backyard — are staged so circa modern-day they're begging to be turned into a video game. The ang moh crusaders take on their insurgent foes in very current combat gear except they are armed not with guns but bows and arrows complete with protective vests. There's even a crazy machine-gun thingy which dispenses rapid-fire arrows, making it look like an ambush straight out of the US Army Desert Warfare Manual: Ye Olde Edition.
I was about to reach for my PlayStation console until in the ensuing melee, Robin saves a captured Moor warrior (Jamie Foxx) from execution who gets one of his hands chopped off and vows vengeance against the invaders for the killing of his son. This fella, fighting in narrow spaces like Wong Fei Hong, is named Yahya, but he tells Robin to just call him an anglicised John — the way Tan Ah Kow is sometimes conveniently called Tony — so that we know he's Little John in the story but is actually not that little in person.
Foxx reminds you of Morgan Freeman in Kevin Costner's Robin Hood eons ago. Difference is he's way hipper and seems more ready to do a fist bump.
Naturally, John takes a liking to Robin for saving his life. Once the newfound pals are back in England as BFFs, John trains Robin like a tai-chi master to shoot and reload arrows faster than Hawkeye in The Avengers to exact payback against corrupt and powerful English officials for basically screwing up their lives big-time.
These corrupt bastards include, of course, the cruel, tax-loving, greedy cheater-of-the-unwashed-poor Sheriff of Nottingham. Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn plays Mr Medieval Evil with a dastardly bland face which you cannot seem to recall, although you remember his best line of intimidation here is “God's up there, I'm down here”.
Here's another 2018 update: God's a great chap but God's 'holy' men may not always be. Which necessitates Little John advising littler Robin to do a Batman-Bruce Wayne routine here. Rob the rich like Batman but reclaim his former wealth and status like Bruce Wayne to infiltrate the powerful inner circle of baddies to take them down. “The only power is if you believe you have power,” wise John tells green Robin as I go “Huh?”.
I kept chuckling at this plot point of Robin becoming Batman. But the more interesting revised side-plot is however one which presumably the filmmakers here — including co-producer Leonardo DiCaprio — believe its core young viewers really don't give a crap about.
Robin is particularly pissed that in his absence, his true love, Marian, has hooked up with an especially dour bearded man, Will Scarlet (Fifty Shades of Grey's Jamie Dornan looking 500 Shades Of Glum). In this reboot, the bloke is clearly not one of the Merry Men. Instead, he's more like an union man, a proto-British Labour Party leader of commoners who believe that working with the hateful rulers is a better way despite Robin, Marian and assorted allies plotting otherwise.
I'm thinking “Wah, juicy love triangle melodrama”. But alas, this movie has no wish to go where even hoods fear to tread as smart and brave Marian seems too #MeToo modern to play dumb damsel here and be caught up in any threesome bulls**t.
All of which makes you hanker for the proverbial forest, a leaf, at least a blade of grass for an inkling of familiarity or one real big kick here. You have to wait till the end for a great set-up of Merry Men revamp which you can only see in the sequel.
Now, if only enough kids would see this flick to make that happen. (**1/2)
Photo: Lionsgate/Encore/Golden Village