Robin Hood – The rebirth of a cinematic superhero

You may think you know the timeless legend, but you’ve never seen Robin Hood like this.

Taking off at a breathless pace that does not let up, Robin Hood reintroduces the iconic outlaw as the dark, compelling hero of a turbulent city in desperate need of one.

In this thrilling action-adventure of our times, directed by Otto Bathurst from a screenplay by Ben Chandler and David James Kelly, from a story by Ben Chandler, Robin’s first-ever revolt against a corrupt Kingdom erupts into gritty battles, kickass fight choreography, an irreverent friendship and timeless romance.

Robin of Loxley (Taron Egerton) a war-hardened Crusader and his Moorish commander (Jamie Foxx) mount an audacious revolt against the corrupt English crown in a thrilling action-adventure packed with gritty battlefield exploits, mind-blowing fight choreography, and a timeless romance.

This all-new take on Robin Hood is delivered on a grand scale befitting the rebirth of a cinematic superhero.

The chance to re-imagine the roots of Robin’s rebelliousness and his quest to right the wrongs of a greedy world drew Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Davisson of DiCaprio’s Appian Way to come aboard as producers.

“We were intrigued by the script’s originality and fresh take on timeless themes, which fits very well with what we do at our company,” Davisson says.  “This is a complex Robin Hood.  The same way that Bruce Wayne didn’t seek to be a hero, but became one because Gotham City needed a Batman, Robin doesn’t set out to be Robin Hood, but Nottingham needs him to be.”

Jennifer Davisson comments, “One of the things that is really important to Leonardo and me is that the films that we’re involved feel special and unique in one way or another.  This movie definitely feels really current and vibrant.  All the archetypal Robin Hood characters you know from the legend are there, but we get to see them through the lens of our lives today and that’s what makes it special.”

The human imagination has latched so tightly onto the myth of Robin Hood that his story has been told, retold and told all over again for some 800 years of massive changes in human society. Since the 15th Century, when Robin and his ostensibly merry band of companions first starred in a series of ballads as rebels fighting for Nottingham’s oppressed, Robin has inspired a slew of writers, artists, storytellers and filmmakers, each reconfiguring the character to resonate with their times.

At the movies, Robin Hoods have been myriad:  Douglas Fairbanks was a silent Robin Hood; Errol Flynn was a swashbuckling Robin; Margaret Rutherford was the first female Robin; Frank Sinatra was a gangster Robin; Sean Connery was a romantically-fueled Robin; Kevin Costner was a quick-witted Robin and John Cleese and Cary Elwes were outright comic Robins—to name just a few.

Otto Bathurst

Director Otto Bathurst wanted to start anew, and remake the mold with all the furious pace and contemporary action filmmaking.

Bathurst, who came to the fore with the binge-worthy, hit television gangster drama Peaky Blinders and a much talked-about episode of Black Mirror, has always love upending expectations.

“To me Robin Hood had the makings of an utterly contemporary and relevant story,” Bathurst explains. “Here’s a guy who seemingly has the perfect and comfortable life and goes off to war, full of ideals, beliefs and passion, but then his eyes are opened to the corruption and evil of the people who are running the world—and it breaks him. It dissolves his faith in his nation and his religion and leaves him disillusioned. We see Robin as a hero, but I wanted to see why and how he became this legend, what it is that burns inside of him and what inspires him to set out to fight with such commitment to the truth.”

Bathurst has his own strong idea of why we still love the concept of Robin Hood in the here and now.  “I thought a lot about Robin and who he was in my mind. You don’t become a legend from simply stealing a few bags of money from rich people and giving them to poor people. I mean, that’s a cool thing to do, but it’s not iconic,” he says.

“The real reason Robin Hood has been a hero for 800 years is that he was a major thorn in the side of society, of government, of the establishment.  That’s why people still love him, because he’s a symbol of that voice out there kicking against the status quo that we are all responsible for allowing. He’s a reflection for all of us in that he isn’t given special powers or born a Superhero, he is simply an everyman who is prepared to do what is needed to bring change and to sacrifice his own comfort for the bigger picture. We have all witnessed oppression, corruption and abuse in some or many forms, but few of us can truly say that we have done something about it and so a story of a man who is prepared to put his head above the parapet, prepared to fight for truth, is a story that needs to be told now more than ever and resonates powerfully with us all.”

One word defined what Bathurst envisioned for the production:  Scale.  He wanted to build from scratch an entire world for Robin, and it would not be the world people might expect.  He explains, “We wanted to massively redefine Nottingham as a place, to make it feel relatable to a modern audience, to make it feel relevant and important so we took the chance to create something unique. Our Nottingham is a teeming industrial capital full of global influences, a political epicenter and a very powerful stronghold of the church. Break the system here and the repercussions will ripple out.”

Bathurst’s “make it modern” mantra thoroughly upped the ante when it came to the film’s action.  Old school static bow-and-arrow combat morphed into wildly, athletic clashes that bring a new energy and pop. Says Bathurst: “We spent hours researching what close up archery warfare would have actually looked and felt like and then distilled this to create a new cinematic style of bow-and-arrow combat that’s both authentic and never been seen like this before. It feels like a modern gunfight, very real, kinetic and visceral.”

Taron Egerton, the 28-year-old, best known to global audiences as the dashing super-spy in the hit The Kingsman movies, had already demonstrated an unusual ability to combine slick action and debonair wit with an undercurrent of rebellion.

When Robin realizes what is happening in Nottingham, he is compelled into action.  That’s when Robin takes on the persona of The Hood, the audacious avenger who thumbs his nose at the elites by stealing the thing they will do any despicable thing for:  their money.  Egerton notes that by obscuring himself behind The Hood, Robin rediscovers his true self.  “At first, The Hood is a just a disguise through which Robin can hide from who he is,” Egerton notes.  “As he merges into this avenging, dark, enigmatic force within Nottingham, he realizes The Hood is part of his own being.”

Egerton says it was the script that made him consider Robin Hood as man wrestling with the future of his soul and discovering an inner fire and skill beyond what he ever expected, rather than a static storybook figure. “To me, Robin Hood feels very pertinent to the world right now and I found the script very moving and funny,” says Egerton.

Perhaps fatefully, Egerton remembers the first time he “played” Robin Hood as a boy in his living room.  “Robin Hood is one of two characters that I had a costume for as a kid— Robin Hood and Superman. I’d jump from sofa to sofa and pretend I was flying and I did that as Robin Hood, as well,” he laughs.  “I had the little plastic bow and the costume.  I always liked him. There’s an idea people have always connected with in Robin Hood:  that there can be a noble renegade who acts selflessly for the good of others, which is something I connected with.”

 Egerton’s Robin is a war veteran who returns home seeking peace and solace only to realize his fight is not over—it’s just beginning. “This isn’t men in tights romping through Sherwood Forest,” he says.  “Robin comes back from the battlefield in Syria in emotional distress and detached from his previous life, which no longer holds meaning for him. He finds a Nottingham he no longer recognizes, one full of appalling inequality and injustice.  He tries to remain dispassionate in his solitude, but ultimately his conscience won’t allow him to ignore what he sees going on around him.”

He continues, “I like this Robin because there’s such grit and a determination to him.  He’s a lord, but he’s not a pampered lord.  He doesn’t surround himself with servants. He’s very hands-on. He really subscribes in the beginning to the idea of fighting a noble war.  It’s only later that he realizes the whole thing was something of a racket so that the people at the top could keep lining their pockets.”

Bathurst notes that Egerton’s intensive training was key to pulling off the film’s non-stop action. “We wanted the battles to feel raw and chaotic, because that’s what these fights were like, and that meant Taron had to work super hard in order to become a very proficient archer, it was extraordinary how adept he became and to ultimately witness him being able to fire three arrows in two seconds,” the director explains.

Athletic and game for anything, Egerton impressed the crew with how naturally he took to the physical challenges.  He also had to open up his romantic side, as Robin fights for the stolen heart of his beloved Marian. “It’s really great love story between Robin and Marian,” Egerton says.  “What was fun for me is that we go from a kind of gorgeous, youthful naiveté to a relationship that has been destroyed by war and circumstances.  It is Marian who reignites Rob’s passion and is the one who inspires him to keep evolving until he becomes this heroic person he was meant to be.”

Bathurst loved that Egerton took a character most often seen as part of the mythological past and made him feel palpably real and human instead, a warrior finding his inner grit. “Taron has such charm and wit to him that you would absolutely follow him into war.  In our story, Robin is a young man and it’s pretty impressive to be able to rally this amazing revolution at that age. We couldn’t think of any actor you would believe taking that on more than Taron,” says the director.

In myths of yore, John was Robin Hood’s loyal lieutenant, but in this new version, he is an enemy soldier who unexpectedly becomes Robin’s mentor and comrade-in-arms, completing his transformation into The Hood. This John is a Saracen fighter, an Arabic Moor fighting on the opposite side of the Crusades from Robin. When Robin tries to save John’s son, John spies Robin’s innate humanity.  Touched by the bravery and compassion exhibited by his Crusader foe, John risks his own life by stowing away to England in order to convince Robin there remains a just cause—one Robin turns out to be uniquely suited to fight for, going beyond John’s wildest expectations.

John had to be both a savvy, sharp-witted rival and an inspiration to Robin.  That’s why the filmmakers sought to cast Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx in the role.

The chance to upend the legend of Robin Hood in high spirits is what drew Foxx to Robin Hood —and now he’s excited to share it with audiences.  “You can expect something different,” he says.  “It’s just a great ride with a current feel.  I really dig some of the modern things you see in this film:  bow-and-arrows that fire at incredible speed and horse chases that are literally like car chases.  The film brings you into this completely original world of Notthingham—and then it lets you loose to have fun in there!”

As for playing John, Foxx was intrigued to play a character who, as a devout Moor, is unique among screen heroes.  He also saw him as having a lot in common with Robin, though neither realizes that at first, coming from completely different backgrounds and beliefs to meet for the first time as mortal enemies.

Almost as iconic as Robin of Loxley is Marian, his legendary love, and long lauded for her independence and strength.  In this Robin Hood, Marian may be a mere commoner, but it turns out there is little common about her attitude and bravery, something Robin responds to from the first moments of their meeting.

Bathurst was committed to Marian being Robin’s equal.  “Marian is one of the pivotal aspects of this film that I feel most passionately about,” he says.  “She’s a powerful and deeply committed woman, an arrow of truth. Indeed, she is the catalyst for Robin’s whole journey and there is no question that without Marian there would be no Robin Hood, in that it is she who pulls him out of his selfish anger and shows him the true path. Robin has to really, really fight to get her back because our Marian is no swooning damsel! I’m thrilled that our film has such a strong female character.”

The filmmakers found their Marian in another rapidly rising star:  Eve Hewson, the Irish actress who came to the fore in Steven Soderbergh’s TV series The Knick and played Tom Hanks’ daughter in Bridge of Spies.  “It was the minute that we saw Eve read with Taron, and we saw that chemistry, that we said, ‘OK, we’re done,’” recalls Davisson.

Hewson liked that this version of Marian was grounded in a reality to which she could strongly relate.  “It was exciting to me because it felt like they could be young lovers in 2018 with Robin going off to war and with that kind of intensity of emotions,” she says.  “I also like that Marian isn’t a superhero.  She doesn’t have any special skills or weapons, she’s just fighting for her life and willing to kick, punch and take any risk for what she believes in.”

Playing Will, who fights for Marian’s love while trying to become the community’s leader, is Jamie Dornan, known for TV’s Once Upon a Time and the Fifty Shade of Grey franchise.  Dornan notes that Will is in a real bind once Robin returns. “Will is a good, decent man but he’s threated by Robin.  He sees that spark is still in Marian, and he also recognizes that The Hood could take hold of the movement Will’s worked so hard to organize, and make it his own. By the end of the story we see the damage that jealousy and rage does to my character.”

Hewson has sympathy for Will, but says she and Dornan relished the challenge of showing the cracks in their connection.

For Dornan, the scope of Robin Hood was also a thrill.  “I’ve never done a movie that has this kind of scale, with so many stunts and explosions and effects.  It really was like nothing else I’ve experienced,” he says.  “Otto was brave and bold about everything.”

High above Nottingham sits the autocrat who rules the city with a ruthless hand, becoming The Hood’s target and nemesis:  the Sheriff of Nottingham. The Sheriff is a complex and daunting villain, an angry, cynical man dripping with inner darkness, hungry for limitless power and wealth, but also seeking to make others suffer as he once did as an orphan.

He shares little in common with previous incarnations.  Says Davisson:  “For the Sheriff, we wanted someone you might see on CNN, someone with that kind of modern TV polish, who whether you agree with them or not has a compelling way of speaking.  We wanted to avoid the arch-villain and go for someone who exists in the grey areas, who could even come off as making sense, until you realize there’s no truth to what he says.  We knew we needed a really nuanced actor for that.”

The production found an actor keen to go deep into the darkness in Ben Mendelsohn.  Mendelsohn has drawn praise for a prolific range of work, spanning from his Golden Globe and Emmy-nominated role in Netflix’s Florida family epic Bloodline to playing Bruce Wayne’s corporate rival in The Dark Knight Rises, to the devious Orson Krennic in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and King George VI in Darkest Hour.

Mendelsohn says he approached the Sheriff as an “astute political animal, a master manipulator who grew up under the cruel hand of the church and the nobility, leaving him with a venomous hatred of both. He’s a great and vivid character.  He believes solely in power, so he’s been busy building his war machine and living his depraved life without any concern for the citizens of Nottingham. His past has led him to develop an incredibly strong survival instinct.  Like Robin, he sees that the people in power are full of lies and rubbish, but he decides to go all in as a scumbag to take advantage of it, whereas Robin decides to fight for the people and become a hero.”

Bathurst reflects: “We used every tool in the box to make this film feel as contemporary, real and connected to audiences as we could.  This is not about being remotely historically accurate or being faithful to previous versions of the story, we’re not looking through a gilded frame at the past in this Robin Hood. This story is now, the relevance of this story is now.”