The first stretch of PAN combines the orphans and workhouse of OLIVER TWIST with the WWII setting and fantasy bleeding into the real world of THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA. . Then things go all Terry Gilliam but with less verve as a pirate ship swoops through the London Blitz and we’re off on a thoroughly uninspiring adventure.
The latest “so you think you know this story?” retelling of a classic follows orphaned Peter (Levi Miller) as he is scooped Roup by pirates and transported to an otherworldly island. There he finds the tyrannical Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) who is forcing an enslaved workforce of children and outcasts to mine crystals imbued with fairy magic to maintain his unnatural eternal life. Peter soon finds destiny calling, and with the help of warrior princess Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) and dashing rogue Hook (Garrett Hedlund) he sets out to unlock the power inside himself and free Neverland.
There are some terribly inventive visuals on show here – oceans suspended in bubbles in the clouds; the bark on a tree shifting to tell the story of a war between tribespeople and pirates. The crocodiles look great too for the very brief time they’re on screen. Other parts of the film’s aesthetic are decidedly less impressive, with fake-looking environments and “Neverbirds” that look like the animation software hasn’t finished rendering them yet.
I was sold on Hugh Jackman’s Blackbeard from the moment he minced out to address the crowd chanting Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit (because why not?). He’s a firework display of high-camp and Child Catcher sinisterness. His powdered and bewigged look and playing-to-the -back-row performance is also entirely in-keeping with Peter Pan’s theatrical origins and continued popularity as a pantomime. There’s also zero reason why he couldn’t just be playing Captain Hook other than origin stories being all the range these days. Garrett Hedlund is awful as a young Hook. He plays him like Han Solo without a drop of charm, plus a nails-on-chalkboard voice that sounds like a British actor doing a bad American accent (despite Hedlund actually being American). He also tends to forget about his crocodyliphobia from scene to scene. Levi Miller is fine, but doesn’t make the biggest impact as Peter and Rooney Mara is given nothing to work with but her incongruous Doc Martens as Tiger Lily.
The film thinks it’s funny and endearing but it sadly isn’t either. Gags are either based on men and boys falling over or getting hit in the family jewels, clumsy references to the source material (“The boy is lost?” / “Yes he is a lost boy”) or non-jokes like Peter exclaiming on his arrival to Neverland “Is this…Canada?”
The action is by-the-numbers and every demise in battle inconsequential – I know this is a family film, but pirates falling out of shot or into holes and tribespeople becoming puffs of brightly-coloured dust when they’re shot or stabbed means nothing. You couldn’t really be graphic with the intended audience in mind, but you can acknowledge that people die when swords and guns are involved.
By the end of the film we’re not even finished with Peter Pan’s origin. The key characters still have some way to go before they reach the point in their arcs we find them in JM Barrie’s play/novel, so you find yourself thinking, what was the point? If you’re going to depart from your source material, there has to be a good reason for doing so, and it at the very least has to be memorable.
When we first heard that Blackbeard’s slave miners sang Nirvana and The Ramones and Peter, Hook and Tiger Lily would all come from different periods of history, I though Joe Wright was going to do some really interesting, distinctive stuff with the concept of time, with Neverland existing outside the traditional linear concept of its passing. Infuriatingly, nothing is done with this idea. There was controversy when Mara was cast as a character usually portrayed as Native American, but it didn’t bother me when I realised the tribe in the film was a patchwork hippie commune rather than anything culturally based. Nothing is done with this idea either – where do these mixture of people and fashions come from and how did they construct their society? Nobody making the film seemed to care so neither should we.
Pan wastes talent and potential throughout and continues straight on until morning. It’s dull, apes better films it wishes it could compare to and in the end feels entirely unnecessary. By all means come for Hugh Jackman’s hypnotic flamboyance, just don’t hang around for anything else. SSP