Late in the film, after Robin Hood (Taron Egerton)—or simply The Hood, in this version—has uncovered part of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s (Ben Mendelsohn) sinister plans, there is an action scene involving The Hood and mercenaries hired by the Sheriff set in a mining camp. This is one of the biggest and most elaborate sequences in the film, depicting a chase with horses and carriages and molten steel. It should be thrilling and engaging, but it’s the point my brain finally checked out and wandered off somewhere else. I started daydreaming and thinking about things that had happened earlier in my day. When the scene ended, I snapped back and remembered I was supposed to be watching a movie. It’s difficult to feel much of anything while watching Robin Hood (2018); the best compliment I can muster is that it exists.
The action scene at the mining camp is emblematic of everything wrong with the film. The mining camp is a massive set, but the choreography takes little advantage of its space. Much of the chase sequence is depicted via close-ups of faces, poorly composited with blurry, indistinct backgrounds. The money shot involving the molten steel lasts five seconds, if that, and has no direct impact on the action. It occurs for no reason. The most elaborate part of the sequence involves some verticality as The Hood runs across wooden bridges, leaps over other characters, and eventually reunites with his allies back on the main road. These are some of the only shots to feature distinct backdrops and wide angles, but they’re riddled with shockingly poor CGI and haphazardly cut together. The editing is where the entire film is undone.
This new version of the Robin Hood legend mixes familiar elements in slightly new ways, but none of it is particularly fresh or noteworthy. Returning home from the Crusades, Robin of Loxley discovers his land seized and his lover, Marion (Eve Hewson), in the arms of another man, Will (Jamie Dornan). Lost and frustrated, Robin is recruited by John (Jamie Foxx) to wage a war against the wealthy class. Like a poor man’s Batman—at one point, Marion tells Robin that Lord Loxley is the disguise and The Hood is his true self—Robin throws around his wealth and parties with the elite by day while donning a mask to battle corruption by night. The storytelling is practically a farce; the utter lack of impediments or challenge to Robin’s plan to win the Sheriff’s favor, join his inner circle, and discover his evil plans, is laughable. The plot always arranges characters in the most convenient way possible, at the expense of logic or even basic narrative conflict (the contrivances that unite or reunite characters at important moments in the third act are among the laziest I’ve seen this year).
But worse than the lackadaisical plotting is the shapeless construction—the editing, as I said, being the single element that undoes the whole affair. There is a poor sense of pacing not simply from scene to scene, but moment to moment, within individual scenes. There is not a single moment in the film that breathes, or builds an engaging rhythm. There is nary an opportunity to build atmosphere. It feels like half of the film has been left on the cutting room floor. The death of John’s son, which occurs during the opening scenes, has no impact, because the film has no time for grief. And Will’s entire character arc is hacked to bits, the film never clearly defining his relationship to the community he supposedly leads, or his motivations during the third act. Hilariously, an entire training montage passes only for Marion to tell Robin that she went to see him the night before, in a scene long before the training montage; the film’s sense of time is so clouded it actually begins with a narrator saying he will not reveal the year the film is set, because it doesn’t matter, and then transitions to another scene with the title card, Four Years Later.
Go home, Robin Hood, you’re drunk.
The film’s inability to establish a compelling atmosphere is as frustrating as it is surprising. The editing in Robin Hood reminded me of Shane Black’s The Predator, another grisly hack job, but where the Fox franchise had a widely reported troubled production, with studio interference clearly resulting in some of the film’s mangling, Robin Hood seems mangled by design, or lack of care. It’s the kind of film that feels like it was cut down in the edit to keep the running time short, to keep the action moving, to push it out and hope it’s good enough—or assume it never will be, accept that it’s a dud, and write it off. The film had a large budget, and it shows, but the editing does it damnedest to hide it. The film has huge, detailed sets, many of which are impressive, but the film rushes through scenes so fast it barely has time for master shots. There are establishing shots of cities and forests that look interesting at a quick glance, but disappear before you can get a moment to admire the craft. A lot of time and money went into constructing richly detailed sets, and creating even bigger backdrops (digital or otherwise), but the film waves the audience along as if there’s nothing to see.
It’s an incredible phenomenon, really, to spend so much money on a movie and not take the time to show it off, to revel in the costumes and sets and massive landscapes and special effects. If you want to watch Hollywood piss away millions of dollars, I recommend a ticket to Robin Hood.
(I don’t actually recommend a ticket to Robin Hood.)
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