There have been some laughably bad movies based on the Robin Hood legends, and some outright strange ones — but it’s hard to think of one less necessary than director Otto Bathurst’s bombastic new rendition, “Robin Hood,” which strains to be cool and relevant but fails miserably.
Taron Egerton, so cool as Eggsy in the “Kingsman” movies, plays Robin of Loxley, a young nobleman with a good life in his family manor, giddily in love with Marian (Eve Hewson). Then Robin is drafted by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) to fight in the Crusades — four years of hellish combat that is filmed like “The Hurt Locker” or “American Sniper,” but with bows and arrows instead of M-16s and AK-47s.
While in the Holy Land, Robin ends up fighting an Arab (Jamie Foxx), and later saving his life in the face of the torture-happy Guy of Gisbourne (Paul Anderson). When Gisbourne sends the rebellion Loxley back to England on a hospital boat, the Arab hides out in the hold, waiting for his chance at revenge against those who sent Gisbourne and his murderous compatriots.
Home in England, Robin learns his manor and fortune have been seized by the Sheriff of Nottingham, to pay for the war effort. The Sheriff has also declared Robin dead, and Marian — now running a soup kitchen for the unfortunate laborers in the nearby mines — has moved on and is romantically linked to Will Scarlet (Jamie Dornan), who champions the people’s cause to little avail in public meetings.
Robin and the Arab — whose name is hard for the English to pronounce, so he’s called John — both have reasons to seek vengeance on the Sheriff now. So they team up, and one training montage later, they’re looking to steal from the Sheriff’s coffers. They aim to use the money to position Robin as a glad-handing nobleman, currying favor with the Sheriff to gain his trust and learn his plans.
The hardest part, for Robin and the audience, is not to burst out laughing when the Sheriff’s plot with a Machiavellian cardinal (F. Murray Abraham). But laughter is unavoidable when contemplating Mendelsohn’s scenery-devouring performance, which rivals Alan Rickman (“Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”) and possibly Pat Buttram (in the 1974 all-animal Disney version) for sheer hamminess.
Bathurst — making his movie debut after a load of TV work, notably “Peaky Blinders” — further jumbles the convoluted plot of Ben Chandler and David James Kelly’s script by tossing in as many loud and harried action sequences as possible. It’s all dimly lit movement and flickers of flame, all of it incoherent and draining.
The capper is an ending that induces slaps to the forehead, revealing all of this confusion to be an origin story for a franchise this “Robin Hood” may — and, if there’s a God, should — never gets to fulfill.
Opens Wednesday, November 21, at theaters everywhere. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive references. Running time: 116 minutes.