“Forget everything you’ve seen.” The awkward narration that opens Robin Hood asks a tall order of its audience: Cast out your memories of Errol Flynn’s buckling of swash, Disney’s cute, flippant fox, and even Kevin Costner’s wandering, wobbling accent. Make room for this clunky, funky steampunk mishmash that delivers one mile of style for every ten feet of substance. Unfortunately, this movie is too long and boring to not think of better and brighter adventures for Robin Hood. Hell, the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where they go to Nottingham on the holodeck looks like Henry V compared to what we see here. That version at least had a Klingon in spandex going for it.
Anyway, after the narrator begs us to go into this shitshow blissfully ignorant, we get a few set-up scenes with a smarmy, smirking Robin of Loxley (Taron Egerton). He meets cute with feisty Maid Marian (Eve Hewson), and the two hook-up for a sequence of hot nookie before Hunky Rob is called off to the Crusades. Rob spends several grizzled years scrapping his way across the Holy Land, culminating in a confusing, Playstation-cutscene battle that has more choppiness than a Benihana. Rob returns home to find his castle and lands looted by the insidious Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn, who has now officially taken the baton from Gary Oldman as the Scenery-Devouring Villain). It’s damn lucky for our hero that Yahya (Jamie Foxx, a glimmering light in the film), a wounded Moor, secretly trails along to aid the quest for justice and revenge.
I suppose you could reward the makers of Robin Hood a few bonus points for having the stones to infuse a few Baz Luhrmann-style anachronisms to try and spice up the gumbo. Alas, the movie blows any of that goodwill by making those additions maddeningly obnoxious. Director Otto Bathhurst pumps up the action with Michael Bay-esque slow-motion pans and jarring zoom shots. (Much like Roger Ebert’s adage that no good live-action movie has ever been made with an elephant, I would argue that there has never been a positive movie review with the term “Michael Bay-esque.”) Characters dress like Alexander McQueen models and wear makeup that never smudges. The dialogue is peppered with contemporary idioms that knock loose any suspension of disbelief the audience might have. The fact the filmmakers are doing all this on purpose doesn’t make it less annoying.
Robin Hood is a movie that spends so much time being clever that it forgets to be entertaining. Previous versions have implied that Robin’s altruistic thievery is actually a lot of fun. Even Costner’s grubby, ungainly take had a few moments of panache and a slinky, slithering Alan Rickman to love and hate. This movie spins and shrieks, like a tire in deep mud. “Forget everything you’ve seen.” They should’ve told us that at the end of the story, not the beginning.