In ‘Robin Hood,’ Taron Egerton is the merriest of men
There are many people of a certain age whose first crush was the animated fox in Disney’s “Robin Hood” (1973).
Robin — voiced by English actor Brian Bedford — was confident and clever. He knew how to grin and when to tip his hat.
His sexiness was even a joke, on the Netflix comedy “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” In a 2016 episode, Kimmy asks Jane Krakowski’s Jacqueline whether she found the cartoon fox handsome when she was young, and Jacqueline responds, with knowing eyes, “Are you kidding? That voice? And how he didn’t wear pants?”
Those who grew up with the Disney classic were adolescents in time for Kevin Costner’s take on the character in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (1991). Even without a sexy voice (Costner’s Robin sounded more like the golfer in “Tin Cup” than a nobleman), the movie was a hit, probably because it leaned into the romance.
That seems to be the trick with “Robin Hood” films, including the 1938 one, starring Errol Flynn. No matter how many arrows are shot, when it works (sorry, Russell Crowe) it’s more about charm than action.
That makes the casting just right for the latest “Robin Hood.” Robin is portrayed by Welsh actor Taron Egerton, best known for the two “Kingsman” movies.
Egerton makes for an ideal Robin, with his Lego-shaped jaw, and his ability to deliver lines with great sarcasm while looking good in stylish outerwear (Robin’s actual hood in this film is attached to a sleek windbreaker that looks like it might have been designed by Rag & Bone).
The only problem is that there isn’t much for Egerton’s Robin to say. The zingers don’t quite zing.
Director Otto Bathurst (“Peaky Blinders,” “Black Mirror”) introduces us to Robin as the comfortable young Lord of Loxley, whose only real concern is whether he can get enough make-out time with Marian (the sharp and magnetic Eve Hewson), whom he meets when he catches her trying to steal a horse from his manor.
All is well — until Robin gets drafted. When he returns from war, he learns that the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) has proclaimed him dead and forced Marian into the mines, where she lives with a bunch of other poor people overtaxed by the rich. Her community looks a bit like District 12 of “The Hunger Games,” which is appropriate, because Mendelsohn is often dressed like he just left a lunch date in Panem’s Capitol. He’s out-eviled by F. Murray Abraham, who plays a cardinal, the boss of the story’s real enemy, the church.
We get a love triangle when Robin learns that Marian, believing him dead, has moved on with the diplomatic Will Scarlet (Jamie Dornan), who’s so kind and thoughtful that even Robin can’t stop himself from shaking his hand.
Dornan gets some anachronistic-yet-lovely jackets to wear, too.
The true hero of the film is a foe-turned-friend named Yahya (Jamie Foxx), who after hearing privileged, white Robin barely try to pronounce his name (come on, Robin!), decides it’s easier to be called John. Yes, it’s Little John who finds Robin, trains him in archery, and gives him the legendary mission of robbing from the rich, giving to the poor, and overthrowing the corrupt church.
Also uncredited by the masses for her labors is Marian, who works on her own covert plan for resistance. It’s Marian, with her stolen horse, who embodies the real spirit of Robin Hood from the start.
Some of the film is slow. Some of it is silly (Robin is so clearly The Hood; his sleek coat provides about as much disguise as Clark Kent’s glasses).
Still, the reboot goes in confident and ends with the suggestion of a sequel.
If it gets one, it’s because of the film’s stars, who aren’t as charming as a fox, but in their better moments and excellent outerwear, get pretty close.
Directed by Otto Bathurst. Written by Ben Chandler and David James Kelly. Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Tim Minchin, Jamie Dornan. At Boston theaters, suburbs. 116 minutes. PG-13 (for violence, some language).