'Robin Hood' Review: A Nonsensical But Oddly Charming Take On Familiar Territory

The latest iteration of Robin Hood opens with our hero (Taron Egerton) receiving a letter of conscription into the Crusades, and being thrust directly into the middle of an Iraq War allegory. Robin and his men are dressed in clothes that resemble bulletproof vests, and fire off arrows with such force and speed that director Otto Bathurst might as well have gone all the way and had them toting guns.

It's a nuttiness and strain for modernity (and modern relevance) that persists throughout the entire film, and perhaps the only thing about Robin Hood that justifies the opening voiceover that claims this to be a Robin Hood we've never seen before. On a strictly technical level, no, we've never seen this version of Robin Hood's story before, but we have seen everything that happens in the film in almost every big blockbuster before this.

The biggest blueprint that Robin Hood is drawing from is Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, as Robin starts out a Bruce Wayne-esque lord before deciding he has to use what he has (using a secret identity, of course) to help the oppressed townsfolk around him. His status as a lord, meanwhile, he uses to get in good with the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn, naturally), and figure out exactly why the townspeople are being squeezed for all they're worth.

That said, the association isn't frustrating to make so much as it is totally baffling, as is much — if not all — of what the film has to say. It might be more accurate to say that the film doesn't know what it's getting at, either, as Bathurst quickly tracks into Fast and Furious territory as well as invoking (but doing nothing with) thornier themes by outfitting Nottingham's police force in riot gear, and suggesting that home team bureaucratic forces are responsible for prolonging the war.

That the film works in even the slightest (though that may be a generous estimation) comes down to just how incomprehensible it is (one of the stranger inventions of the film is the giant mine to which most of Nottingham has decamped, both to work and to try to escape the Sheriff's increasing war tax, which makes less and less sense as a story invention the more you think about it) as it jumps from reference point to reference point. It's totally absurd — which is generally a trait in films that I tend to admire — and each nonsensical turn in the plot is followed by yet another.

It helps that the cast (including Jamie Foxx as "Little John," the Moor whose son Robin tries to save in one of the film's first scenes) is able and game, even if they are saddled with a movie that is so all over the place and intent upon contemporary political parallels that any semblance of character development is mostly obliterated. Egerton, for instance, is an endlessly charming presence (as he's proved twice over in the Kingsman movie), and seems to be as close as we'll ever get to a human version of the animated fox in Disney's 1973 Robin Hood.

Unfortunately, the way his Robin is written isn't really all that interesting, and the period-inappropriate hoodies he's given to wear strain at the bounds of suspended disbelief (as does a party in the middle of the film in which all pretense of period goes straight out the window). And Marian, despite a valiant effort from Eve Hewson, can't escape the restrictions placed on her as the obligatory love interest — nor the ridiculously low-cut necklines all of her dresses seem to sport.

Mendelsohn fares the best, though his Sheriff is mostly clearly drawn from the present (he might as well be an out-and-out political firebrand, per Sutler in V for Vendetta or, you know, certain more immediate — and real — public figures). He also has an added backstory that works to make him both more sympathetic and more confounding, but he leans into the outsize villainy enough that he's compelling to watch through increasingly rote-yet-startling plot twists.

By the end of the film, chariots are being raced through what might as well be modern underpasses (with the accompanying flames demanded by any contemporary action movie), Molotov cocktails are being tossed, and arrows are still being fired off like bullets as the story labors itself into place for a sequel. No matter how good your grasp on the proceedings, you'll still be thrown off by the ride's end, but you may have fun along the way if you submit to the film's particular brand of nonsense and only try to parse through it once all is said and done.

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10