While setting up the tale of how Lord Robin of Loxley became “The Hood” early on in the most recent adaptation of Robin Hood, the narrator tells us that he would tell us what year it had been, if only he could remember. It seems like an offhanded comment, but it’s deliberately inserted to tell the audience upfront exactly what the guiding principle of this film is: don’t sweat the details.
Is this movie set during the actual Third Crusade? Or – as the costumes suggest – is the setting some sort of post-apocalyptic Panem kind of situation? Don’t worry about it.
Why on earth would a woman trying to stay inconspicuous – so she can steal a horse 0 wear an outfit that shows nothing but her eyes and cleavage? Doesn’t matter.
Given Robin’s terrible poker face, why does the Sheriff of Nottingham keep trusting him? Stop asking. He just does.
But Jamie Foxx’s accent, though? I mean…? C’mon. You knew what movie you were going to see.
From the very beginning, Robin Hood is making the argument that it knows it’s a two-dimensional popcorn flick, and you should know that as well. By that measure, the movie mostly succeeds, particularly given the need for counterprogramming in a season stuffed with prestige pics.
Despite being an origin story – which we know, because there’s a training sequence – Robin Hood is almost lazily familiar. There’s robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, a maid named Marian (Eve Hewson), and a couple of Merry Men. The film moves quickly in short scenes and the costumes are cool, even if it was a little confusing to see so many leather dusters in this film. What mostly keeps the movie engaging, though, is Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service) as Robin. He’s fun, sincere, and he has better cheekbones than a cartoon fox. So, Robin Hood is entertaining enough.
The problem is, it’s almost impossible for a film to be all glossy surface in 2018. Even when a filmmaker wants their film to be all straightforward text, with themes about classicism and the dangers of war hitting you head on, the subtext is still going to be there.
Director Otto Bathurst and writers Ben Chandler and David James Kelly don’t intend for anything in this film to be subtle; the text clearly tells viewers that there’s good and bad, right and wrong, friends and enemies, and no room for grey area. But the subtext in Robin Hood eventually bubbles up, asking questions like whether the ends justify the means. The subtext asks why Robin Hood is sometimes trying to end destructive acts of violence and other times killing dozens of nameless, faceless soldiers without a second thought. The subtext wonders whether making themes like culture, ethnicity, and religion two-dimensional for the sake of a creating a fun blockbuster is irresponsible.
Bathurst doesn’t want you to think about any of that any more than he wants you to wonder how Marian maintains her smoky eye so perfectly in a place that seems to lack both mirrors and eye shadow primer. And if you can zero in on Egerton’s charm and the cool stunts, Robin Hood is a pretty fun movie. But as much as the filmmaker may want to keep them at bay, questions of “why,” “whether,” and “should” are likely to come calling before the credits roll.