Robin Hood: Men in Tights Was the Last Good Robin Hood Movie. Let the Character Go.
Summit Entertainment has released a new international poster for their upcoming Robin Hood movie that I thought had Jamie Foxx as Robin Hood, but it turns out it’s the much less interesting choice of Taron Egerton as Robin and Foxx as Little John (but lbr it’s Lil’ Jon). However, it got me thinking Robin Hood and King Arthur are two of the most enduring figures in our Western pop culture, right up there with Sherlock Holmes and Jesus, yet movies about these two fictional/legendary giants tend to be dull at best, outside of comedies. We keep making Robin Hood and King Arthur movies and nobody cares. Why?
Enough with the origin stories already:
Much like the origin stories of Superman, Batman, and most of the cultural icons we’ve come to know and love, we pretty much know the important part of King Arthur’s origin story, and Robin Hood’s origin story is not important to what his story is about. Yet, films have this burning desire to explain how Robin Hood became Robin Hood. How did he become the legendary archer we know and love?
Why? So we can get multiple shots of wee-Robin Hood shooting arrows badly before, during a rising violin moment, triumphantly firing the arrow into the head of some enemy? Or he’s a boring arrow-slinging genius. Do we need to see him meet up with the Merry Men one by one? Let’s just get into the meat and potatoes of the story. Not to mention every movie is the same. Robin Hood comes back from the Crusades, sees corruption, fights corruption with some early struggles, but gets the girl and “the legend begins.” Cool, I wish we could get to the more interesting parts of this legend.
King Arthur’s origins could make an interesting story if they actually focused on Uther Pendragon as the warlord rapist he was, but we usually get some tragic/sympathetic portrayal of him in media. There’s so much energy pulled into the love triangle that we never get to enjoy anything interesting. Why is the only good adaptation of the Quest for the Holy Grail Monty Python and the Holy Grail? With all the countless versions of stories to be told, why are we only telling one of them again and again?
Raise your hand if you actually care about the Arthur/Lancelot/Guinevere hetero-love triangle when the answer to the problem is … as always … polyamory? I thought so.
2 hours isn’t always enough:
Other than comedies and Disney movies, the best adaptations of these characters have been on the small screen. BBC’s Merlin and Robin Hood both ran for multiple seasons, and despite eventually deviating into farce, these series offered a more in-depth look at the characters and the mythologies around them.
The things that make Arthur and Robin Hood interesting are their adventures, not their simple existence. Robin Hood isn’t the only legendary marksman. Why not do a story about William Tell or Punker of Rohrbach instead? Well, partly because of our Anglophile nature, but largely because it’s the universe Robin Hood occupies, the characters on the journey, that make the whole thing interesting. If we are gonna adapt it, there’s a desire to spend more time with the characters, not just reduce them further into action staple tropes for the sake of making the runtime manageable.
Even less successful television shows like Camelot try to do something interesting or new with the source material (Camelot is Team Morgan whether they admit it or not). Elementary may not have the same critical notoriety as BBC’s Sherlock, but as someone who loves Elementary, I can say that what keeps me coming back is the humanity and friendship between the two leads and how the narrative helps them on their emotional journey. It takes the Sherlock Holmes story and makes it different enough that two series about the same character can exist, but have two different journeys.
Television also allows writers (when they have the gumption) to take more risks with casting and ask the audience to trust them on a journey. All the backlash against a female, Chinese-American Joan Watson, and yet Elementary is on its 5th season. BBC’s Robin Hood may have only lasted three seasons, but it was fun and gave the world Richard Armitage in leather, so really, isn’t that a victory already?
What is this movie about?
Because we live centuries after these texts have been collected and have been watered down, edited, and changed depending on who was writing and translating these legendary characters, they can mean a lot of things depending on the particular adaptation. At the core of their characters, both Robin Hood and King Arthur represent different things.
Robin Hood is an outlaw who “robs from the rich to give to the poor” under the dominion of a false king. Robin Hood has come to represent a noble, rebellious group of people who protect their community. But also, what makes Robin Hood righteous is that King John (the usual king in these stories) is not the “true king,” and once Richard comes back, order will be restored (lol). So you can rebel, but only because the wrong dude is in charge, not because the institution itself is bad.
Even with King Arthur, depending on the adaptation, he goes from noble king to spoiled brat. As writers throughout history have changed and added and taken away from the mythology of King Arthur, each one came in with a moral agenda or ideal that they were using the story of the Knights to promote—the concept of courtly love, or being super into Christianity, or being a way of giving hope to British people in times of war, and spreading a concept that there was, at one time, an idealistic society where the people in power cared about virtue and nobility above everything else.
So what is the point of these movies?
To a degree, it’s just “fun” to create some quality entertainment, but what is the point of a “grimdark” adaptation of these characters?
From what it says on Coming Soon, this Robin Hood film is supposed to be a “gritty” film where “Robin Hood return[s] from The Crusades to discover a Sherwood Forest rife with corruption and evil. Teaming with a band of outlaws, he takes matters into his own hands to set things right, with very little merry-making along the way.” Not sure how it will be different from 2010’s Robin Hood with Russell Crowe, but I’m going to be hopeful that it at least tries to do something interesting, because after last year’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, I think we need something more than just “grit.”
(via ComingSoon, image: Summit Entertainment)
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