There have been numerous film versions of the Robin Hood story since the silent film “Robin Hood and His Merry Men” was released in 1908. The hundreds of versions since have ranged from the serious taking from the rich to give to the poor approach, as in Errol Flynn’s 1938 drama “The Adventures of Robin Hood” to Mel Brooks’ campy “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” in 1993.
Such variety is proof there is no definitive way to mount a film based on the character. Any telling of the Robin Hood story is not a history lesson, so what makes one approach better than the others is how much the story, characters and players entertain.
Director Otto Bathurst (“Black Mirror”) opted to make his “Robin Hood” a production that embraces all the common elements of the story of Robin of Loxley (Taron Egerton), Marian (Eve Hewson) and all the supporting players, including the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) but presented with a modern touch. He doesn’t go so far as to fill the movie with anachronisms to the degree director Brian Helgeland did with “A Knight’s Tale.” Bathurst presents a story set in the Middle Ages where elements from firefights to wardrobe appeal to a modern audience.
The blending comes fast and furiously after a rich and happy Robin (think of him as an early version of Bruce Wayne) is drafted to fight in the Crusades. Battles that would usually feature only the clanging of swords give way to rapid-fire assaults by a Gatling gun-style weapon that shoots medal rods that can go through solid stone. Robin survives a major assault only to have his loyalty tested when the son of a Moorish commander (Jamie Foxx) is put up to be executed. Resistance gets Robin and the Moor a trip back to England.
Robin returns home to find his home in ruins, his true love living with someone else and the Sheriff financially bleeding dry the poor in Nottingham. Before Robin can take on the Sheriff, he and the Moor must come up with a plan and train so Robin can accomplish his mission.
Casting Egerton to play Robin was a smart move by Bathurst. Along with the actor having the kind of boyish charms Tom Cruise shows off in his action movies, Egerton has already created a foundation with his work in the “Kingsman” franchise. Both have him in a role of a person with certain raw talents that are refined to help defeat evil.
Egerton’s Robin has the same kind of respect/dislike for the character played by Foxx as he had in “Kingsman.” And, there’s a definite connection between Egerton and Hewson (“Bridge of Spies”), but it isn’t the traditional damsel in distress angle used in so many past Robin Hood tales.
Bathurst establishes in the opening shots that Hewson’s Marian is tough, independent, smart, caring and loyal. They are equals when it comes to the fight against the Sheriff.
As for casting Mendelsohn as the villain, Bathurst again was able to bank on a foundation established by Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” Mendelsohn seems to relish the idea of taking on characters as ruthless as they are traitorous. His Sheriff is by far one of the most complicated versions of the role in many years.
All this plays out against lavish sets from production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos, supervising art director Marc Homes and costume designer Julian Day that are as opulent when dealing with the rich as stark when looking at the poor. Coupled with a wardrobe that works despite looking way too contemporary for the time period, the overall look of the movie is rich and textured.
Looking at this work as a mashup of a traditional story with a contemporary approach will make this an offering that has the mindless entertainment approach of a summer movie.