Updating a classic story like Robin Hood is difficult at its best, and impossible at its worst. Thankfully, in the case of director Otto Bathurst’s most recent adaptation, it’s more on the former side of the spectrum, as Robin of Locksley’s story can be interpreted so many ways. While this modern Robin Hood does feel very much a product of its time, with fun performances and kinetic action thrown into the mix, it feels as if it had to crib from another landmark franchise to do so.
Robin Hood takes after the classic tale of the same name, almost to a tee. After being sent to fight in the Crusades, only to be dishonorably discharged through a deliberate arrow injury, Robin of Locksley (Taron Egerton) returns home to find he’s lost everything. The Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) is taxing his people into poverty, and the church is getting fatter by the day. Using his position as a Lord, Robin leads a duel life, as he attempts to make his way into the Sheriff’s inner circle, while becoming a thieving man of the people at the same time.
Before we get too far, it has to be said that Robin Hood feels like it has taken elements from all three of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. If it was just the story beats, one could probably turn a blind eye, as Batman feels very much like a hero inspired by Robin Hood. After all, there are several stories that start with a rich person, presumed dead, who returns home to find that they not only have nothing, but must reclaim their life in the name of their city. But when your climactic showdown kind of feels like the bank robbery prologue to The Dark Knight, right down to musical cues sounding like they were lifted from said film, a closer eye is going to start breaking the whole comparison down that much quicker.
With that comparison out of the way, Robin Hood is still a pretty entertaining movie to watch. Though it takes some time to rev the engines up to full steam, by the time the film lets itself have fun in its last act and a half, it gets into a rhythm that might have served the film better if it had been hit earlier in the picture. The story and pacing of Robin Hood may fall a bit behind, but the film does boast some rather exciting performances by its cast.
In particular, the pairing of Taron Egerton and Jamie Foxx is inspiring, as the two have an easy chemistry that sells the lion’s share of the film’s heroic side. Both bring their individual skill sets as leading men to the table, and form a Robin / Little John team that commands the screen, with their charm turned to the highest setting.
Other than our main heroes, the two most enchanting performances are Ben Mendelsohn’s Sheriff of Nottingham and Tim Minchin’s Friar Tuck. In the case of the former, Mendelsohn’s well-honed skills of villainy shine through in this Robin Hood’s sheriff. He’s rotten to the core, and isn’t afraid to lean into that one bit; though his character does get some justification for doing so in his backstory. As always, the man steals his piece of the film, and a thread of scenes between him and Jamie Foxx’s Little John make for some antagonistic merriment halfway through the film.
Tim Minchin, on the other hand, makes you smile every time he’s on the damned screen, as the easygoing Friar Tuck. The musical humorist is the epitome of a supporting player in Robin Hood’s proceedings, as he takes what’s usually a side character and turns him into someone you easily want to spend more time with. His comedic timing is priceless, and if there’s ever to be a sequel to Robin Hood, he’d better be getting a boost in profile.
Robin Hood is simultaneously unlike any version of Robin you’ve seen before, and very much like the superhero films you’ve seen a glut of in the recent past. While it’s not perfect, and does engage in derivative practices to reach a more modern crowd, the messages that have been present in the story have been preserved note for note. The film seeks to inspire the modern generation to, like Robin, actively engage the world they live in and change it for the better. The fact that it gets that part of the story right, as well as presents some breathtaking action and entertaining performances, already puts it above some of its predecessors.