Pan: 2 out of 5
Pan is another big-budget, ambitious mess in a year where we could really use one that actually turned out well. Instead, we have a film that looks like the worse aspects of Hollywood coming together in a film filled with potential to be greater. Rather than explore an interesting concept to give purpose to a film seeking to ruin the mystique behind Peter Pan’s origins, we have a traditional “chosen one” storyline, riddled with poor choices, rushed plotting and weak characters. This is to say nothing of the extensive CGI, but it at least fits with the handsome production values and zany Hugh Jackman performance.
Poor Hugh Jackman seems to be the right way to start actually, as the guy truly gives it his all in a performance that is both over-the-top in a way that fits the film and is thematically appropriate, given his character’s motivations. Jackman stars as Blackbeard, the famed pirate who now apparently rules over Neverland. Fittingly enough, Neverland is less a fictional world where Caribbean-style pirates happen to exist inside a fantasy and more like Baz Luhrmann’s take on Oz.
The plot actually kicks into gear, following a prologue set in WWII era London, where we meet Peter Pan (Levi Miller), a young orphan snatched up from an evil orphanage by a flying pirate ship. He is soon working in a mine, along with many other children and men alike, digging for solidified versions of fairy dust. It’s a bit ridiculous, but just go along with it. What matters is how Pan eventually escapes with his new best pal James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), but not before revealing that he can fly and may be the one prophesized to take down Blackbeard.
Honestly, there were times when it felt like watching Pan was like watching a family-friendly version of Mad Max: Fury Road that had the characters stopping every 5 minutes to explain the entire plot to you, rather than let you figure things out on your own. Jason Fuchs script is a paint-by-numbers adventure story that has no real surprises and key characters that hardly register beyond their costumes and acting choices.
That costume remark extends to pretty much everyone, but let’s focus on Rooney Mara. There has been much to say in regards to casting lily-white Mara as Tiger Lily, but the movie has too many other problems to really keep holding up the casting controversy as a major issue. That is not to say a studio decision to not go with a person of color for a role like this doesn’t matter (no matter how much the film ‘attempts’ to explain it), but given how bound to bomb Pan seems to be, the argument is basically moot at this point.
Got a little sidetracked there, but as far as Mara goes, she is basically fine in the form of a deadpan princess, but deceptively weak, given how all the sword fighting in the world does not stop her from being rescued by the other male characters. Her assumed badassery also does not stop her from being charmed by Hook. That may be the most mysterious aspect of it all, as Hook is maybe the film’s boldest misstep.
Garrett Hedlund’s performance as Hook is certainly big, but whatever the intention was, it was not the right move. Rather than coming off as a charming rogue, Hook feels like the guy who never quite nailed his stage audition, but keeps coming back week after week. It is a distractingly bad performance, which could only be the result of a film not sure of itself.
That is a shame as I like director Joe Wright quite a bit. While he has had some misses (The Soloist), he has made some films I really enjoy (Atonement, Hanna). Regardless of what side of the coin he may fall on for viewers though, the man does seem like one of the ideal choices for a Peter Pan film, yet it just doesn’t work out. All of his interesting touches concerning the look and sound of the film comes through in some way, but it is never more interesting beyond admiring the work going into production design and little details.
There is also the matter of tone. A sense of danger often comes through, thanks to the notion that kids actually die and people are dispatched quite often (they dissolve into bright paint colors though, so don’t worry about blood). That is not a terrible way to take things, but combined with the cartoony performances and inconsequential story, it is hard to really care either way about who lives or dies. That, in turn, seems a little problematic as far as scoring points with a family audience.
In all of this, I really just wish I could have had more fun with the film. Fortunately Jackman seems to be having a blast, but his character quickly fades out of importance as the film goes on. Instead, I am mainly forced to follow along with Hook and the gang, with the film insisting that an even more interesting story will happen in a sequel that will likely never happen.
I was rooting for Pan, based on the people involved, but this film is a mess of ideas that never rise above mediocrity. It is a shame, but so is the idea that a studio felt the need to give a film like this, with such a poor screenplay, $150 million. The only question left is whether or not this is worse than Spielberg’s Hook, but that would require me to want to spend more time thinking about either. Instead, just watch the underrated Peter Pan from 2003.