Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves has a peculiar reputation. Many regard it fondly, the last vestiges of an old Hollywood era, a sweeping bit of romance and a greater brand of mustache twirling via Alan Rickman, may he rest in peace. Others regard it as forgettable camp, a hodgepodge of dodgy accents and woeful action. I fall on the side of the former because, well…even critics can fall victim to nostalgia. So consider me biased when I tell you that Robin Hood is reaching for such sweeping gestures and utterly failing to grasp them.
This ain’t your daddy’s Robin Hood and it desperately wants you to know it. From perfect leather to peddling socialism and a battle against xenophobia, 2018 has wrought a wannabe social justice warrior in…medieval times? It’s unclear in the midst of designer duds ambling through Nottingham while Crusaders ransack the Middle East. Not-so-Maid Marion has perfect makeup, Robin of Loxley wears a pea coat, and the Sheriff of you-know-what shits on the poor in a well-tailored leather trenchcoat. If we’re obligated to anachronism, then I’ll trade them all for the musical stylings of A Knight’s Tale any day of the week. As Friar Tuck’s wholly unnecessary voice-over portends, “forget history.” Rather than hiding contempt, Robin Hood is right up front about it: we know you’re stupid, it says, we know you don’t care about history, you want arrows falling and swords drawing. They’re right, to some extent. They’re wrong about history. Period aesthetics can be instrumental or detrimental to any film set in the past, depending on the genre. Director Otto’s steadfast refusal to embrace the past, both in terms of period detail and romantic pomp, is detrimental to our willingness to “go there” with him when he chooses to modernize the legend in other ways, conflating characters and creating love triangles out of thin air. I “went there” on one or two accounts. Take the hard-nosed takedown of Crusader warring, or even better, the villainous takedown of the old world Catholic church, complete with F. Murray Abraham as a menacing cardinal. Grace notes may be hard to come by in the middle of so many bone-headed choices, but they exist. The wily charms of Jamie Foxx and Taron Egerton and a single monologue by the great Ben Mendelsohn go a long way, if fall short of getting to that elusive bulls-eye, the sweet spot between carefully made and commercially serious.
There’s a compelling vision buried there somewhere in the muddy waters of studio meddling, cynical pandering, and anachronistic landmines. Oh, and a callous disregard for horses, computer generated or not. Horses, second only to dogs in do-not-harm territory at the movies. Robin Hood misses the mark precisely because it avoids nostalgia, a potent ally when attempting to revive a legend as old as time. Find Prince of Thieves and and have a grand time with the late Alan Rickman instead.