The classic tale of Robin Hood will be reimagined on the silver screen this fall. Then it will be reimagined again and again and again and again and again and again over the next couple years, because there are seven Robin Hood reboots in the works in Hollywood right now.
Some sound better than others. Nottingham & Hood and Marian seem fine in a vacuum. However, I'm skeptical of Robin Hood and can't say I'm psyched about Robin Hood 2058 (will his bow shoot lasers?) or Robin Hood And The Prince Of Aragon, billed as a "vibrant punk-pop retelling of the mythos."
This flurry of films is not normal. Two movies of very similar subject matter released within a year or two of each other are fairly typical. Think A Bug's Life and Antz, or The Illusionist and The Prestige. These pairings are an easily explained phenomenon. But seven movies on the exact same legend in development at once? That's weird.
So why is it happening? Well, the extent to which Hollywood reflects the zeitgeist is debatable. Surely there are conclusions to be drawn from the last two decades' decline of the rom-com and rise of Very Serious prestige television. On the other hand, I doubt the success of Marvel's gobs of superhero flicks reflects much beyond the broad pleasure of watching witty people defeat inhuman evil with bright colors and loud noises.
But this glut of Robin Hood movies has a reason, I think, and his name is President Trump.
Some of this is less about Trump personally and more about the overwhelming unpleasantness of the political milieu he encourages and enjoys. Politics right now is too much. It is overwhelming, chaotic, an endless onslaught of one scandal after another. It is far more than most of us want to think about, and rightly so. Worst of all, it never resolves.
Robin Hood, by contrast, is a satisfying story of justice told in black and white. There is tragedy and treachery but little ambiguity. Robin is not always victorious, but he is always noble. As the introduction of my well-worn copy of the Children's Classics edition notes, the "charm of this inspiring personality has been a bond of sympathy between lovers of romance for half a dozen centuries," and understandably so. Who wouldn't wish to turn from the day's headlines and accept the invitation to "withdraw from our workaday world into the cool, green delights of merry Sherwood Forest," where the "merry outlaw" relieves "an oppressive tyranny" of its "gold and distributes its bounty to the poor and the afflicted"? This is escapism at its best.
And it is remarkably politically malleable. On the left? Great! Robin Hood is an outlaw socialist who robs the rich to feed the poor. On the right? No problem! He's undermining an unjust government on behalf of the brutally overtaxed. That the site of wealth and state power are one and the same in Robin Hood's medieval England gives his story near universal use as a political parable. Red and blue America can watch equally contented as their disparate mental frameworks are separately confirmed.
Yet I suspect some of the Trump connection is rather more specific, because Robin Hood is everything Trump is not.
Where Trump is a perpetual social climber, Robin gives up his place in the peerage. Where Trump incessantly grasps for wealth, Robin sacrifices his comparatively luxurious life to live in the woods. Where Trump has gained the most powerful position on the planet, Robin works to expose corruption and greed in the ruling class without seeking authority for himself. Where Trump mocks the weak and downtrodden — he likes "people who weren't captured" — Robin fights on their behalf. He is cleverer than his opponents and merciful to a fault. He is hyper-competent, beloved among his loyal subordinates (the Sherwood does not have a problem with leaks), and has eyes only for Maid Marian.
Robin Hood is the anti-Trump, and that must be part of why his story is so attractive to us now. Yet Trump is not entirely absent in Robin's world. Attended by his rapacious sheriff of Nottingham, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he is our very own Prince John, a character whose portrayal in Disney's 1973 animated version remains uniquely evocative. He wallows in the flattery of his sycophantic aide — "You look regal, dignified, sincere, masterful, noble, chivalrous!" — reveling in his own power and wealth and lashing out at any suggestion that his authority may not be rightfully held. He even has a thing for executing "traitors."
In most Robin Hood renditions, John receives some sort of comeuppance. Disney has him breaking rocks in prison stripes; in 1938’s classic starring Errol Flynn, he is exiled. Our troubles will not end so tidily. And so against the angry din of Washington, the verdant quiet of a Sherwood copse will continue to appeal.