The title Robin Hood: Origins by itself is enough to raise eyebrows, but nevertheless it’s a real project and not a nature-themed cosmetics line, or a piece of young adult fan fiction. Jamie Foxx has signed on to the film in the role of Little John, joining the Kingsman star Taron Egerton as Robin and The Knick’s Eve Hewson as Maid Marian. In my years covering entertainment, I haven’t noticed much clamoring for an explanation of Robin Hood’s origins. But this era of Hollywood is rooted in the familiar: If it’s a name audiences have heard before, it’s a safer bet for investment.
That’s also why there’s a young Han Solo movie on the horizon, because Disney wants to hold on to an iconic character as Harrison Ford ages out of the role. That’s why there are endless reboots planned for mythic characters in the public domain, from Frankenstein (in 2014 and 2015) to Hercules (twice in 2014) to Tarzan (who returns to the big screen this year). Robin Hood: Origins is being described as a “gritty” take on the character, which would be laughable if it hadn’t already been done in 2010, when Ridley Scott made his own grim Robin Hood with Russell Crowe. But the mistake that film made was casting an actor in his mid-40s. Every studio is after a franchise-starter, so every film has to begin with an “origin story” and star some young, cheap talent to keep the sequels from being too expensive. The strangest thing about this strategy is that Hollywood keeps trying it, even though there isn’t much evidence that it works.