I listen to a lot of podcasts, I always did before but now that I drive to my new job having to concentrate on the road means that I’m not able to skip the adverts. There’s one app that is being pimped everywhere recently called robinhood, a cursory search informs me that it is stylised without a space or a capital because of course. It claims to be opening up trading to all, allowing commoners access into the rarified world of capital. It is of course outside of its marketing puff one of the most petit-bourgeois concepts imaginable nobody without any money is gonna get rich off their fucking backs. And in the most self-congratulatory liberal way possible they brag about having an option to only invest in companies with female CEOs — so proud, a part of me dies every time.
Otto Bathurst’s new film Robin Hood tries also to rehabilitate the legendary scoundrel’s image to make sense of the current late-capitalist hellscape in which we find ourselves. It’s frantic grasps at relevance wherever it can be found stretch it to breaking point. Egerton’s smug, preening, nobleman protagonist is served at his country estate with a draft summons from the Sheriff of Nottingham. We are briefly whisked to his time spent in a very modern warfare inspired crusade whereupon he returns home to a land unrecognisable from the one he grew up in.
The first thing that must be discussed is the joint’s insane, maximalist aesthetic palette. This is a world in which hand to hand combat has been rendered obsolete — Hood’s notoriety as a crack archer undermined by the existence of machine gun crossbows, some shoulder mounted exploding ballista. Their operators move not in the traditional notion of a firing line, but rather like some military squadron: breaching, clearing out rooms methodically the pointed tip of an arrow peeking through a doorway as an unseen eye sweeps the area.
When Jamie Foxx advises him in a quite unnecessary training montage that he needs a ‘street weapon’ it manifests itself in the form of… A smaller bow. This is a Robin Hood for an armed generation. Participating in American leftist spaces I’m always surprised by the amount of value that many place on being armed. Not even just for the purpose of personal defence under a tide of rising fascism; there are those about who want to be prepared when revolution comes. This joint seems to buy some of the same ideals, and yet its comprehension of revolution is entirely predicated upon the personal. The legend must always subscribe to the Great Man theory of history and in its wake politics must be reduced to the personal, lest the man be diminished in the wake of social action.
Taron Egerton is clearly doing what they are paying him for, but he does not command the screen as a great man must. We are told that he has returned from the war a changed man, yet he quite clearly hasn’t. When he declines to talk about his combat experiences, or his fallen comrades the script suggests a pain that does not come through on screen. In an interesting choice, he sees that following his presumed death his sweetheart Marion has married someone else. His first reaction is to stagger away and throw up at the sight of them sharing a relatively chaste kiss. It’s not a good look and you half expect him to turn to reddit to start ranting about how this SJW bitch cucked him. Outside of the text the film gives her precious little to do and delights in outfitting her in conspicuously low cut dresses.
In the light of losing everything for the good of a war effort that he now feels disillusioned by, he forms a unlikely friendship with Foxx’s John. They first met in combat, where Robin took his hand. They then met at an English field camp, where Robin attempted to save his son from execution. Then John takes the decision to stowaway on the transport bringing Robin home, to a land that he does not know, in order to assist him in a quest to disrupt the funding of the war that neither party was aware was corrupt until they got there.
It’s wild. That may be the greatest leap we are expected to take in terms of incomprehensible character motivation but it is by no means the last. The plot is a barely coherent construction of robbery setpieces that seem to flow from one to the other without meaningful structure in terms of intent or escalation. In between we are assured that the plan rests upon Hood’s nobleman alter ego getting into the Sheriff’s favour because… I dunno. At least it gives us more scenes of Ben Mendelsohn.
That man is doing a lot here. Introduced in giving a speech where he’s stoking a crowd with anti-immigrant rhetoric, he’s a monologue machine. Just ready at will to come out with something truly bizarre. And for whatever reason they team him up for a lot of the running time with Tim Minchin as mumbling comedy sidekick Friar Tuck. Of course it’s not truly enough for him to be a mere penny pinching crook anymore, he has to be involved in some scam. Something involving a cardinal, there’s a hint at an arms smuggling conspiracy complete with hilarious exhortations that the troops are gonna run out of arrows.
The poor of the city have been exiled to slums surrounding ‘The Mines’ where they seem to be represented by Jamie Dornan as some political agitator. Does the film deserve points for exposing the ideological flaws of the enlightened centrist, or should they be taken away for its cheap dismissal of political organising? All these analogies come across extremely tortured by their retrofitting to a political system that has no place for them. When a character cries, ‘it’s time to redistribute the wealth!’ The line rings hollow, in this context what does that even mean?
Like last year’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword this is a film crucially undermined by being a prequel to a series that is no doubt fated to stop existing after this instalment. The film ends following a merry band on their way out to Sherwood. A realisation of my worst fears regarding the current popular leftist commentators, is the goal personal exclusion? Amassing enough personal capital to escape the system, leaving those without to still be trapped within it, their only aid being symbolic personal acts committed by those folks that capital supports.
Robin Hood cannot exist without the oppression that he fights. It’s totally not a good film by any other means — but given its aspirations, the failure to properly engage with this fact buries it.
Robin Hood is currently screening in UK cinemas.