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What Went Wrong? Hook

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Reviewing a bad movie that could’ve been better

Dustin Hoffman Captain Hook image
Amblin Entertainment

Most people have seen Hook (1991) right? It might be the family movie you watch over the holidays or just something for Sunday afternoon streaming on Netflix. As the follow up to such a popular children’s story in Peter Pan Hook was always going to be popular. But there are many elements of the film that fall short. So what went wrong and why do so many people see Hook as a bad movie?

I’ve taken a look at some movies, like 1993’s Super Mario Bros and 2016’s Suicide Squad here before. Movies that were big budget and high concept that reached for the stars but instead crashed and burned in a major way. They weren’t just critical bombs and financial disappointments. They also torpedoed any chance at launching profitable franchises.

This time, I’m going to take a look at a movie that is in the similar vein: 1991’s Hook. If you’ve seen Hook, you may be raising an eyebrow at me grouping it with the previous movies in my series. Hook wasn’t an overbooked, wasted opportunity (Suicide Squad). Nor an absolute tap-dancing dumpster fire (Super Mario Bros). But given its potential it was so…disappointing.

So lets a flight to Neverland and take a look at the world of Hook. We’ll see what was good about it, what went wrong, and how it could have been better.

SPOILERS: Although this movie is almost 30 years old, there are some spoilers in places. So beware!

What worked and why it had so much potential

There was so much that could have happened with Hook, so much room for originality and creativity. It certainly wasn’t a financial flop, making $300 million off of a $70 million budget, and it was nominated for five Academy Awards. Not only that, it featured an intriguing concept: what would have happened had Peter Pan actually grown up? We’ve seen so many iterations of the Peter Pan tale over the years. Rarely had it dealt with speculative fiction of what might happen if The Boy Who Never Grew Up suddenly…grew up?

Other than the concept, one of the other strong aspects of Hook was the star power it brought to the table. There was star power both in front of the camera and behind it.

The movie starred some of the biggest and brightest stars in Hollywood at the time (though we’ll get more into this in a bit). Plus it had some very strong supporting cast members. At the helm was legendary director Steven Spielberg. A man with family movie experience in E.T and fresh off of directing the mega-successful Indiana Jones movies. He’d go on to direct another family movie Jurassic Park soon afterwards. So experience in this genre was not a problem.

In particular, among the strong supporting cast was Bob Hoskins (who would go on to star in Super Mario Bros of all things) as Smee. Hoskins did a masterful job of walking the line between over-the-top and silly while also being dramatic. Not only that, but the introduction of a noticeable-yet-subtle homosexual undertone to the Smee-Hook relationship was somewhat revolutionary for its time. Also strong was Dante Basco as Rufio, the tough but ultimately sympathetic leader of the Lost Boys who dies defending Peter’s honour. This act forces Peter’s son, Jack, to reconcile with his father and, in the end, the crocodile gets Captain Hook again.

Indeed, one of the stronger elements of the Hook movie is the way it deals with the dynamic of Peter Pan (now Peter Banning) as a father. He becomes the same kind of grown-up he always wanted to avoid. In one of the movie’s most iconic moments, he regains his ability to fly by remembering his happiest thought. He left Neverland and grew up because he wanted to be a father.

That scene…it still gets me all these years later.

So despite all this potential and star power, why isn’t Hook more well-loved? Why is it remembered as a movie with middling reviews at best? It holds an abysmal 29% on Rotten Tomatoes. And why was it not a game-changing work that could have started a franchise?

Well, let’s take a look…

What Went Wrong?

Earlier, I mentioned that Hook had a lot of star-power in its cast, so it shouldn’t be a bad movie, right? It was also directed by Spielberg in his prime. But as any chef can tell you, great ingredients don’t always make a great meal. And Hook was not a great meal.

The biggest issue of the movie was the casting of the two leads. Robin Williams played Peter Pan. Dustin Hoffman played Captain Hook. That’s 11 Academy Award Nominations and 3 wins right there (and Hoffman had just won an Oscar for Rain Man two years prior). Both were very capable actors in their primes. But they were cast incorrectly.

Williams was…fine?…as Peter Pan. He tamed his trademark wild energy at the time and focused it into a more serious role until the time called for it towards the end. But he was a bit too inconsistent in his role. Like in his other more dramatic roles (i.e. What Dreams May Come), his “serious” acting sometimes comes across as too syrupy and over-the-top. His portrayal of Peter Pan was almost too melodramatic and, when he finally crosses back over to the side of the Lost Boys, almost too cheesy for the role.

The real role for Williams in this movie was that of Captain Hook. If Williams would have been cast as Captain Hook, he could have unleashed his manic energy for a good purpose. Captain Hook is all about being over-the-top and theatrical, and Williams would have nailed that part. However, there is also a darker element to Hook’s character. Williams might have been able to match this dark element but it would have been unlikely. One thing is for sure, though: Dustin Hoffman was not right for the role of Captain Hook. Hoffman is a great actor of course. He has played iconic roles and earned both critical and popular acclaim. But his performance as Captain Hook was too bland for this movie. Everything in Hook was over-the-top, syrupy, fantastical, or melodramatic. Hoffman’s performance was just…there. It was fine. But it could have been a lot more.

Speaking of poor casting choices, let’s talk about Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell for a minute. Julia Roberts did not need to be in this movie. She was not good enough to blend into the role. A role which made Tinkerbell less a character and more a ploy to sell tickets (indeed, she was a year removed from her star-making role in Pretty Woman).

This was a movie about a beloved fictional character, framed around an intriguing narrative, directed by a beloved auteur in Steven Spielberg. In this way, Hook was a bad movie as it suffered from a similar problem as something like Suicide Squad now. People were always going to see this movie. It didn’t need a “Hollywood choice” like Julia Roberts to sell tickets. This was a chance to put a potential rising star in a breakout role. Instead, they took the movie star who – like her counterparts – didn’t really fit and was dealing with relationship troubles at the time.

That brings us to the final misfire from Hook, that being the direction of Spielberg. Spielberg’s movies, while loved, always had that overly emotional and melodramatic bent. But he didn’t bring anything original and interesting to this story. He just leaned on his typical tricks and did a cookie-cutter job in which could have been an intriguing narrative. It had the stirring score by John Williams. Then it had the father-son dynamic that so many Spielberg movies have. It had big special effects and bright colours. But it didn’t have any real originality or charm. And I’m not the only one who thinks so: Spielberg himself notoriously disliked Hook, even though fans have taken more of a liking to it in recent years.

How Hook could have been better?

So with all of that in mind, how could Hook have been done better? How could it have become a classic of the fairytale and fantasy genre that it could have been?

Casting

The first step would have been to figure out the correct casting choice. So who would have been a better Peter Pan? You could convince me that Williams could have made Peter work if given a better Captain Hook to play off. In fact, one fascinating choice could have been to have Robin Williams play both Peter Pan and Captain Hook. It would have taken some editing trickery, of course. But to have him unleash all of the different facets of his personality and acting chops would have made for an interesting ride.

However, there could have been other choices to play Peter Pan that likely would have been more intriguing than Williams. The two that stand out the most are Rick Moranis and Tom Hanks. Both Moranis and Hanks had an everyman charm that would have gone over well with audiences and would have made them endearing as Peter Pan. Rick Moranis had recently finished filming the underrated Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. In which he played a goofball but well-meaning dad who ends up saving the day (sound familiar?). This same charm would have played well in Hook as Peter Pan, though having him play the stuck-up version of Peter Banning might have been tricky.

At this time Tom Hanks would have been a perfect choice for Peter Pan. He’d just recently finished starring in his breakout role in Big, where he played an actual boy trapped in a grown-up’s body. He had (and still has) that boyish and loveable charm that would have resonated with audiences as Peter Pan. He had not yet become the megastar he would develop into (Hook came out in 1991, and he didn’t win his back-to-back Oscars until 1994 & 1995). Tom Hanks wouldn’t have overpowered the role with his celebrity star power like Robin Williams did to a degree. With Hanks – or Moranis – in the role of Peter Pan, the character would have been more emotionally resonant and not as campy as Williams made it.

But what about the role of Captain Hook in this movie? Hook’s role is one that needed to be over-the-top and chew all the scenery. As we have discussed, Hoffman did not accomplish that task. But who could have done that effectively? We would need someone who was a quality actor that could handle any role. Plus, we would need someone who could be funny, but more to the point someone who could be sinister and threatening. We would also need someone who wouldn’t overpower the role with obvious celebrity star power.

That’s quite a lot of criteria to meet. But, the best choice for an actor that ticks all the boxes is the man who won the Academy Award for Best Actor the year before Hook was released: Jeremy Irons. Irons has made a career of playing the threatening, brilliant villain. He is always the highlight of the movie he is in, but he never overpowers it. In fact, he could have blended in with any of the actors for Peter Pan, whether it be Williams himself or even Moranis or Hanks.

In summary

The other thing that could have improved Hook? Let the story speak for itself. The way Hook was set up, it was a story about Peter Pan growing up, forgetting his roots, and ultimately redeeming himself. There was no need for nonsensical special effects or melodrama. The story will create the drama and the pathos; let the actors and the script do the rest. Indeed, a major issue with the original version of Hook is the fact that it really tried to pack too much into the film. It’s already a good story. Just let it tell itself.


Thanks for reading our review of Hook (1991). Do you agree or disagree with our points or have anything to add? If so, leave us a comment below.


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No Time To Die – Review

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James Bond No Time To Die image
Metro Goldwyn Mayer

No Time To Die is the 25th instalment in the official James Bond series. It’s the VERY long-awaited follow-up to 2015’s Spectre. The 6-year gap between the two films is only matched by the same gap between Timothy Dalton’s last outing in 1989’s Licence To Kill and Pierce Brosnan’s debut in 1995’s Goldeneye. Here’s our review of No Time To Die.

SPOILERS: If you’re reading this then you’ve probably seen the film, but if not there are spoilers ahead.

Of course, there are mitigating factors in that enormous gap. Namely COVID. Which made No Time To Die the first major film to delay its release due to the pandemic. Although, this film has had a difficult gestation irrespective of the global situation in the last 18 months. As soon as Spectre was released the speculation over Daniel Craig’s future in the role began. With him initially suggesting he would rather slash his own wrists than play the iconic spy again. He did a mea culpa on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show in August 2017, where he confirmed he would appear as Bond for a fifth and final time. The original director and writer, Danny Boyle and John Hodge, left the project a year later over creative differences. Cory Joji Fukunaga took over as director. While Bond script veterans Robert Wade and Neil Purvis took charge of the screenplay – with a sprinkling of magic from Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Delays

Originally slated for release in April 2020, at long last, we finally get to see Daniel Craig’s denouement as 007. His portrayal of Bond has been very much in keeping with the character of Ian Fleming’s original novels. His performances have certainly followed the dramatic lineage of Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton. Rather than the lighter portrayals by Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan. Yet his Bond has displayed a vulnerability only really demonstrated with any plausibility by George Lazenby in his solitary outing as 007 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

The deference to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is presented in stark relief throughout this 2h43min epic. Making this the longest Bond film in the series. As this was the first film I’ve seen at the cinema since before the pandemic, I was already excited before I even sat down. As a massive James Bond fan as well, I was close to apoplexy! I felt a tangible shiver go down my spine as the iconic gun barrel sequence appeared before we see James cruising around Italy in the classic DB5 with Madeleine Swann at his side. This anticipation was clearly felt by other cinema-goers. They have made No Time To Die break the UK box office record for the biggest opening weekend. It took almost £26m, breaking the record previously held by Skyfall.

I’m not going to spoil the plot for those who’ve not seen it. I had made a conscious decision to avoid spoilers before I went.

A step up?

This film is another shot in the arm for those who see Craig as the definitive Bond. This was aided by a refocusing of the Bond canon after the main tropes of the series were stretched to breaking point by the invisible cars and melting ice palaces of Die Another Day. And then stretched still further by Madonna’s cameo as a fencing instructor. Daniel Craig was given leeway to truly regenerate James Bond for the 21st Century. The stripped-back nature of Casino Royale, without most of the supporting characters that have been a staple of the series like Q and Moneypenny. Gave him licence (pardon the pun) to explore the deepest and darkest recesses of the Bond psyche. Some well-drawn female leads and villains really allowed Craig’s Bond to spar with them with depth and genuine emotion.

That exploration continues and grows in No Time To Die. We get to see an ageing, truly world-weary Bond, whose past he appears unable to escape. This leaves him in a state of almost constant angst. Paradoxically though, we also see him truly relaxed at times. In a way I can’t recall ever seeing James Bond in any of his previous cinematic outings.

Screen time

The issue with that exploration is that a number of characters then have their screen time cut. Moneypenny is reduced to little more than a cameo. And Remi Malek’s Safin is almost secondary as he features in the opening moments as his story is told, but then disappears for what seemed like an eternity. He of course reappears but he almost seems a mild irritation within the plot and merely a conduit to allow us to see the climax of Daniel Craig’s Bond era. It’s a disappointing underuse of a terrific actor. One with a captivating screen presence, who could have been one of the most menacing Bond villains of all time. That said, the influence of his dastardly but highly sophisticated plan is felt by all of the main protagonists. Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld continues to wreak his havoc with malevolent glee from his cell. He again revels in the chaos of his twisted sibling rivalry with Bond.

Lea Seydoux is wonderful again as Dr Madeleine Swann, picking up where she left off in Spectre and giving Bond as good as he gets in every way imaginable.

There are new characters who definitely cut through. Ana De Armas is utterly charming in her relatively brief time on-screen as Paloma, while Lashana Lynch takes no nonsense from Bond as Nomi. She also gives us a potential indicator as to the future direction of the franchise. Which has been the subject of much discussion in all quarters. That debate has even made its way into the political sphere with even Boris Johnson weighing in on what gender the next actor to play 007 should be.

Score

Hans Zimmer’s score is classic Hans Zimmer, adding power and bombast to the usual mix of stunning scenery and brilliantly choreographed stunts. He brilliantly weaves nods to previous entries in the Bond musical tapestry throughout his score. While his cues are always thunderous, they never overpower the action on screen, but do add a sonic rumble that I don’t think has been heard in a Bond score for quite some time. I found Fukunaga’s direction a bit mixed, with some of the cinematography unnecessarily showy. Some of the tracking shots almost gave me motion sickness while some (admittedly beautifully composed) shots of the scenery seemed to have made the edit purely so as whoever the drone operator was could demonstrate their skills.

Duration

The film is much too long, although at no point did I check my watch. It’s not that any of the plot points are superfluous, more that the pacing is a little slow in places. Some of the dialogue feels cliched and clunky, making what is a great story feel a tad generic. Which doesn’t do anyone justice. However, there were some excellent jokes, and I laughed out loud several times. You don’t have to be a 007 super fan to get some of the self-referential humour that they seem to enjoy sprinkling throughout the film.

Billie Eilish’s theme song is a worthy addition to the collection and certainly sits comfortably within the top half of the ‘Bond Theme Chart’. It’s definitely more memorable and evocative than Sam Smith’s ‘Writing On The Wall’ for Spectre. Her voice trembles at times as you can almost feel she recognises the significance of singing the theme for Daniel Craig’s final appearance in the franchise.

It was also very pleasing to see that this film has moved with the times and reflects the world of 2021 with its portrayal of women. Every single female character had a genuine purpose and important role within the plot. While of course, the female actors playing those roles are all irrefutably glamorous and attractive. There was genuine respect and no objectification of women.

Wrapping up

I came out of the screening with mixed emotions. Glad to be back in the cinema on one hand, sad that Daniel Craig’s stint ordering Martini’s was over on the other. I was pleased that such a good climax had been created to bring this era of Bond to a close, and all its story arcs had been brought to conclusions. I’m also excited and apprehensive in equal measure for the future of such an iconic film series. But I was disappointed with some of the characters not getting the necessary screen-time to truly develop their characters. Surprisingly, I was almost tearful at the final few moments, especially as the credits rolled.

Overall, this is a loving homage to the James Bond series, past and present. It’s a solid if unspectacular film in its own right, but the performances of Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux, as well as the Bond history it wraps itself in, elevate it beyond that.

It’s not Craig’s best Bond film, as Skyfall is almost untouchable in my opinion, but it does bring closure to his tenure in the tuxedo in a manner that should please Bond fans across the board. It also tantalises us as to what the 6th age of Bond will look like. Let the intense speculation begin!


CULTURE CROSSING SCORE 7/10


Thank you for reading our review of James Bond No Time To Die. Do you agree or disagree with our points or have anything to add? If so, leave us a comment below.


Check out who we think could be the next James Bond and why HERE.

Read IMDB information about No Time To Die HERE.

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