The newest film titled simply Robin Hood - this one starring Taron Egerton as England's favorite socialist thief - is dumb. Fucking dumb, one might even say; dumb as balls. But there's an alchemical quality to its utter, hapless stupidity, one borne of its absolute commitment to the most insane shit. It is a terrible film? Yes, probably. But I know without a second's hesitation that I'd much rather watch this before either the last two serious feature film versions of the Robin Hood story, 2010's glum Robin Hood and 1991's vacuous Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Or, for that matter, before a great many other films set in the European Middle Ages, which is where I suppose we must place this new Robin Hood, on account of it specifically incorporating the Third Crusade that ended in 1192. But this film takes place nowhere in our Earth's history, which is part of what's kind of snazzy and marvelous about it: it has a fearless love of completely inexplicable, indefensible anachronism, delivered with a big smile and a shrug. It's as if the deliriously strange and wrong and boring 2017 King Arthur: Legend of the Sword had been more self-confident and less self-serious, and also was made by space aliens.

Considered solely at the surface level, we have mostly the same ingredients as those two aforementioned Robin Hood pictures, and several other versions of the story: Robin of Loxley, a minor noble in Nottinghamshire, is drawn into the Crusade, during which time his family property is seized. Returning to England, he refashions himself as an underground fighter against the established power structure, initially just to reclaim what's his, but eventually he finds himself swept away by the moral righteousness of his new work robbing from the rich, even as he poses as a particularly snobbish member of the upper class to worm his way back into the community. Like Prince of Thieves, among other modern incarnations of the tales, he accomplishes most of this with the help of a displaced Moor named Yahya (Jamie Foxx), though given the inability of the English to pronounce his name, he goes by the translation, "John." The commoner Marian (Eve Hewson), who met Robin when she was trying to steal one of his horses, is in love with him, though she has taken up with firebrand revolutionary Will (Jamie Dornan), believing Robin to have died; meanwhile, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) plots with a corrupt cardinal from Rome (F. Murray Abraham) to continue defrauding the Nottingham miners, working quite undetected by the English king whose presence is only just glancingly referenced at any point.

Mostly the same ingredients, and the second the film tries to apply them, they descend into chaos. This Robin Hood presents, among other such surprises as a Moorish Little John, a politically radical Will Scarlet, and a Sheriff of Nottingham forming a religious dictatorship under his personal control, a giant foundry belching molten iron from its severely Gothic that feels more like a stage from a Final Fantasy game than anything typically imagined in Medieval England. It also includes multiple explosions, both the usual kind ("usual"), and the odd tendency of arrows which, when fired into almost any surface, land with a thick "pow" noise and geysers of dust and debris flying up from them. That's all without so much as touching on the incredibly insane design mentality in both the costumes (by Julian Day) and sets (by Jean-Vincent Puzos), which perhaps start at England sometime in the century prior to 1500, but absolutely do not end there. There's a sort of old-fashioned futurism in the costumes, which are sleek and grey and all made up of sharp lines. And I don't even know how to describe the sets, other than to reiterate that they're more like video game levels than any space in the history of the real world at any point.

This is decidedly, awe-inspiringly terrible, and I confess (only slightly to my shame) that I devoured all of it. The film is committed, is the thing, and it demonstrates that fact very early on. Robin's sojourn in the Holy Land is filmed exactly in the fashion of a 2000s Iraq War movie, with bows only superficially replacing assault rifles; the same tense medium shots of people darting down beige alleys, with the camera darting up and around to look for the same snipers and ambushes, the same ragged handheld cinematography. And, I repeat, the same explosions as bullets ricochet off stone buildings, only the bullets are in this case arrows. It's so preposterously wrong that it swings all the way back to right. I mean, whyΒ not film medieval warfare in the style of a modern combat film? It's not like the film spends even a fraction of a second lying about its intentions, and completely unrestrained anachronism - setting a period piece in a completely imaginary timeframe - is a bolder aesthetic choice than many other films. If Baz Luhrmann liked war movies more than musicals, I can absolutely imagine him making something like this.

Good or bad, Robin Hood is above all things sincere; maybe even terrifyingly so. It believes in its fantasy-nightmare setting and its ultra-contemporary attitude (which, among other things, enables Egerton to give his loosest, most charismatic performance to date), just the same as it believes in its indeterminate politics. It's definitely, aggressively anti-rich assholes and anti-organised religion, though its portrait of a Roman-based tax conspiracy to control Nottinghamshire as part of a perpetual war machine is so wholly divorced from reality that it's difficult to say what application its politics might have. If this had been made ten years ago, it obviously would have been a symbolic commentary on the Bush administration's craven behavior in Iraq, and for all I know the screenplay by Ben Chandler and David James Kelly has been kicking around that long; 2018 is far enough away from that moment in time that the symbolism is lost and buried.

But by God, whatever it is exactly that the movie believes, it believes it fully. This is by far the most overtly rabble-rousing Robin Hood I've encountered in any medium, blowing away the 2010 Robin Hood's vague gestures towards a kind of proto-democratic libertarianism. This Robin Hood cheerfully and openly wants us to set the rich on fire, though it cannot always quite articulate why.

That madcap communist-populist impulse, plus the sheer madness of the film's design, goes a long way to making the film giddily watchable, whatever else it is. It feels nothing like Robin Hood, and more like a steampunk swords-n-sorcery fantasy adapted into an anime and then adapted back to film, all based on the notion of a Communist freedom fighter thief, but with almost none of the details of any previous version. Which makes it both fresher, and somehow, even more dumb. I can't pretend that it's not mostly terrible, but I won't pretend that I didn't have a blast watching it, in all its electrifying certainty that it's up to something; it's at least compelling, often not for good reasons, but in an era of the safest, blandest popcorn movies, "compelling" is a virtue no matter how the filmmakers have to get us there.