Monday, September 1, 2014

Aging No Better Than Its Initial Release, Hook Is Bloated And Boring!

The Good: Decent character arc for the protagonist
The Bad: Mediocre performances all around, Varying quality of special effects, Plot progression in the midsection is dull
The Basics: A family adventure that provides a live-action Peter Pan story, Hook is an unfortunately dull take that has the lawyer Peter Banning put on a quest to save his children by reverting to his prior persona of Peter Pan.

Last month, with the untimely death of Robin Williams, my wife and I felt an instant desire to rewatch works by Robin Williams that we had not seen in quite some time. For me, that took the form of wanting to watch The Fisher King (reviewed here!), for her she had a powerful desire to rewatch Hook. Hook was one of those films that I had managed to avoid in my young adulthood – when it was released, I was past the age where I had any interest in kid’s movies and I was still too young for the adult themes in Hook to resonate – but, as it turns out, it was one of the formative films for my wife. I recall the movie being on in the staff lounge when I worked at a summer camp (I avoided it by going off on my own to read, as I frequently did), but until my wife sat us down to watch it, I had never actually seen Hook. In watching Hook, I realized that I never paid tribute to the passing of Bob Hoskins, who also died this year (I’ll rectify that later this week!). Unfortunately for the legacies of Robin Williams, Bob Hoskins and the rest of the cast who will one day leave this work behind as part of their legacy, Hook is not an exceptional film in any way.

Steven Spielberg, who directed Hook, is famously quoted as saying “People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don't have a middle or an end any more. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning” and he certainly is right about that. Most movies do not develop or only do so in truly predictable, banal ways. Unfortunately, with Hook, Spielberg (who was not involved with writing the film) illustrates well that even with a solid sense of development, it is possible to make a pretty terrible movie. Hook is not the worst movie ever, but it is a film crippled by mediocrity, hampered by predictability and is so concerned with telling a specific story of one character’s arc that is completely neglects a sensible development for several of the other characters (most notably the titled villain).

While finding an audience should not be a huge problem, rewatching Hook is a great example of how a movie without a clear focus of to whom the story is being told can be troubling. The film is painfully boring for children for almost the first third, too goofy for adults in the second and third parts to pay off for adults and ultimately acts as an overlong The Little Rascals sketch with an obscenely long build-up.

Peter Banning is an American lawyer who hates flying on planes, is tremendously focused on his work, and neglects his two children most of the time. After missing his son, Jack’s, baseball game, Peter, his wife, and children head to London where Peter’s “great grandmother” Wendy is being honored for her lifetime of charity work for orphans. While Peter, Wendy and Moira are out at the dinner, Jack and Maggie are kidnapped from their beds by the malicious Captain Hook. Peter is miffed, though Wendy tries to get him to believe that he has to go to find the children. Peter is visited by Tinkerbell, who takes him to Neverland.

There, Peter awakens in the pirate’s village where he finds his children and Captain Hook. Hook slowly comes to accept that Banning is Peter Pan (even though Banning does not), but finds the straight-laced lawyer an unworthy opponent for his wrath. To save Peter’s life and the life of his children, Tinkerbell tells Hook that she can get Peter to remember who he is within three days and they can have the battle Hook wants. So, while Hook tries to convert Jack to his cause, Peter is taken to the Lost Boys where Rufio and his child gang retrain him to use his imagination and recall that he is Peter Pan.

The thing about Hook is that Hook is so dramatically underdeveloped in contrast to Peter that he comes across as a monolithic villain. He has had decades to get over the fact that Peter Pan cost him his hand and he essentially rules the seas around Neverland, so provoking a fight with Peter that could cause him to lose everything seems utterly moronic. Lacking a compelling villain who has a clear and compelling need for revenge, Hook becomes a somewhat ridiculous grudge match where one of the participants does not even bear a grudge!

Fortunately, Captain Hook is given the whole plotline that has him turning Jack Banning to his side, to drive a wedge between Peter and his own son. That concept at least makes Hook smart and gives Dustin Hoffman as Hook additional screentime.

But Hook is too straightforward otherwise to keep the interest of the viewer. Peter Banning was always going to go through the journey to realize that he was Peter Pan; everyone around him has been right all along. This was never going to be a reality-bending film experience where people surrounding Peter Banning are all crazy and they get wrong who Peter Pan has become. So, going into Hook, the deck is stacked against those hoping for an audacious film experience. Peter Banning’s arc from uptight lawyer to Peter Pan is actually remarkably good and well-developed. The entire film smartly moves Peter along on his journey of self-discovery (or rediscovery) in a way that works beautifully.

The acting in Hook is mediocre. Dustin Hoffman plays Hook as bored and goofy as opposed to truly menacing, so the hold Hook has over the other pirates does not seem at all realistic. Julia Roberts, due to the special effects process of making her appear smaller, seldom gets eyelines right for interacting with other actors. As a result, Tinkerbell seems disconnected from other characters and Roberts is clearly not interacting with Robin Williams or Dustin Hoffman in most of the scenes they share. Robin Williams is fine as Peter, though he has absolutely no on-screen chemistry with Caroline Goodall (who plays Peter’s wife, Moira) and he fails to land a key scene where Peter Pan tells Jack that the happy thought that allows him to fly is related to his son. Poor Bob Hoskins is relegated to the role of ridiculous Disney-style comic relief sidekick as Smee.

The result is that Hook has a clear beginning, middle, and end and a protagonist whose story develops, but none of it is truly compelling. Too slow to be a great kid’s movie, too goofy to entertain adults, Hook fizzles.

For other works with Caroline Goodall, please check out my reviews of:
My Life In Ruins
Alias - Season 5
The Princess Diaries 2: A Royal Engagement
The Princess Diaries
The Mists Of Avalon
Schindler’s List


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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