For some reason we now have a Peter Pan prequel that is for some reason directed by Joe Wright. With a screenplay by Jason Fuchs, which was apparently on the 2013 Black List, Pan takes a different approach to the Peter Pan mythology. It begins with Peter (Levi Miller) as a young orphan in London who one day gets captured by pirates and taken to the strange, new world called Neverland and their leader, Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). Peter is forced to take part in the mines in order to find pixie dust for Blackbeard, but soon finds companionship with a guy named James Hook (Garrett Hedlund). Together, they must escape from Blackbeard’s grasp and defeat him with the eventual help of Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), all while Peter soon discovers that there might be more for him to discover about himself in Neverland.
I’m not gonna beat around the bush here, Pan is a disaster. Shocking, I know. But I will say, it wasn’t the kind of disaster I was expecting. This isn’t just a bad movie, it’s a spectacularly bad movie, the likes of which you could only get from an otherwise great director (in this case, Joe Wright), whose every artistic choice with the material makes for a bizarre theater experience that needs to be seen to be believed. Pan is confused, tone-deaf yet utterly devoted to its insanity to the point where one could find some entertainment in the right mood, at least for the first half.
If we’re just speaking in terms of the screenplay, it’s just terrible and for a lot of reasons. The big thing that struck me was the increasing reliance on the “chosen one” trope, which is probably the most insufferable storytelling device in recent memory. The film doesn’t even seem to care about selling that particular element wince every predictable element goes by with such laziness and a severe lack of enthusiasm. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was something that was added later because of studio notes. A lot of other plot points come across as either lazy or nonsensical, treated like filler that the filmmakers want to rush past so they can get to the next set-piece. This is an issue that really plagues the second half of the film.
The other thing that really doesn’t work at all (and this is the kind of wtf-ery that takes up the first half) is the lack of consistency in aesthetic logic. What I mean by that is the details seemingly made in order to have this film be a different and unique interpretation of the Peter Pan story, but none of the details feel coherent, for example, the now infamous use of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Blitzkrieg Bop” in the beginning of the film. In case this is news to you, yes, those songs are sung by Blackbeard’s men when Peter and the other orphans are brought to Neverland. Granted, I do think that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is so thematically appropriate to use in context of a Peter Pan story that it’s kind of brilliant. It’s so bold, bizarre and surreal that it’s kind of awesome, but the movie doesn’t even seem to understand its own cleverness and never does anything like that again. It happens very early, with no explanation, and then it never gets addressed again. It’s the only point where I felt like I was watching something truly unique. There’s also the inconsistent tone, which I would’ve been more forgiving of had the film convinced me it knew what it was doing. But nope, it’s the kind of movie that will show a kid fall to his death (there’s a crazy amount of death in this movie), but seconds later indulge in the wonder and whimsy of seeing Peter fly for the first time.
I also thought that the changes made to the Peter Pan story were unnecessary. There is an origin for Peter Pan that you can read, and the film discards basically everything. This wouldn’t be a huge problem had the film had some substance to the new elements they were bringing to the story. The Peter Pan books by J.M. Barrie are thematically compelling and full of subtext. There’s a lot you can get out of those stories. There’s nothing interesting in Pan, nothing under-the-surface that makes you think. There’s nothing to the characters, their environment, no commentary or anything. Despite its ambition toward the look of the film, there’s nothing to this film. This is the one thing that keeps this movie below Spielberg’s Hook (an awful movie, I don’t care what you’re inner 5-year old thinks), which at least had a compelling what-if scenario as the set-up.
When it comes to the film’s visuals, my feelings go to two extremes. The production design and costume work is wonderful, but as soon as people stop standing still, the CGI completely takes over and takes you out of the film. The VFX aren’t particularly good, and the green screen is never convincing. Sometimes there be images that are absolutely beautiful, like one particular sequence where the Natives are telling Pan about this old tale on some magical tree stump, but then there are other parts that downright cringe-worthy like whenever the people become completely CG during any action or flying sequence.
It’s a shame because I can tell there’s effort being put here, but there’s never a moment that feels genuine or authentic. I wouldn’t say the acting is horrible. Hugh Jackman is having a total blast with a hammy performance that also gives him a few moments to add some genuine humanity, even if those moments are very, very few. Levi Miller does the best he can with the material, but at the most, it only shows promise than it does actually impressing. Garrett Hedlund as James Hook does a strange voice that would’ve annoyed me had I not kept wondering why this all was even happening. Rooney Mara makes no impression as Tiger Lily. Her casting really stood out at first, but once you see that the Natives in this film aren’t so much a Native American stereotype so much as an African tribe stereotype, which is still seemingly diverse as can be, it’s a bit easier to give it a mild pass. It’s really the least of this film’s problems.
I’m kind of torn on this one. The first half of the film is an insane, over-the-top mess of ideas that is kind of entertaining at just how weird it is, but unfortunately everything after Peter and Hook meeting the Natives, becomes far more dull, derivative and trapped in the confines of the whole “chosen one” storyline nonsense. Hugh Jackman is easily the most consistently entertaining thing about the film. And honestly, the 3D wasn’t bad at all, but it kept doing this distracting thing where the bottom black bar would raise up whenever something would try to poke out at the audience. It’s the first I’ve seen that and I thought it was strange considering I’ve seen movies do that without raising the bar. If Pan was a bit more committed to its insanity than it would’ve been a cult classic in the making, but as is, it doesn’t quite have the magic touch. 35 / 100