October 25, 2015 Leave a comment
Seemingly abandoned by his mother in infancy, Peter (Levi Miller) is raised in a London orphanage by Mother Barnabas (Kathy Burke), alongside best friend Nibs (Lewis MacDougall). One night during an air-raid, a group of pirates descend on the boys’ dormitory and begin to abduct children. Nibs escapes, but Peter, along with a number of his fellow boarders, are taken to Neverland, where they are forced into slave labour by pirate leader Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). Peter befriends Hook (Garrett Hedlund), a veteran miner, and when Peter discovers that he is able to fly for some reason they mount an escape to the jungle, where they join forces with Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), a native who recognises him from an ancient prophecy foretelling of a boy named Pan — because Peter has a pan flute pendant, natch — who will defeat the pirates and thus save the endangered Fairy Kingdom from extinction at their hands.
J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up (or Peter and Wendy, as the original fairy tale is perhaps best known), was such a simple story, and one that has been retold innumerable times in the years since, most notably on screen in Disney’s 1953 animation and P. J. Hogan’s 2003’s live-action adaptation. The details are always the same — Peter’s antagonism with Captain Hook, his budding romance with Wendy, and their tumultuous relationship with Tinkerbell — but they are drastically different works, the former focusing on comedy and adventure while the latter made more of the melodrama and subtext. The latest cinematic incarnation of the story — from Atonement director Joe Wright — is much more of a departure, for better and worse…mostly worse. It’s not even as good as Hook.
A prequel concerning Peter’s first exposure to Neverland, Pan opens with newcomer Miller pining for the mother he never knew, something of a novelty for a character famous for his irreverent arrogance. Many of these inversions are intentional, to allow for some semblance of character development — the prologue makes this clear by announcing that “sometimes friends begin as enemies, and enemies begin as friends” — but rather than help you better understand the story as Tiger Lily’s narration asserts these changes only serve to confuse, if not confound, fans of the original work. As in Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, or Sam Raimi’s Oz The Great And The Powerful, Wright’s film wants to distinguish itself from what came before, and succeeds, but for all of the wrong reasons. We’re back to pointless prophesies, misconceived mythologies and senseless set pieces as yet another auteur falls foul of formula. Peter is no longer simply the boy who wouldn’t grow up; he is the Chosen One, Fairy Prince and heir to the Fairy Kingdom. Because of course he is.
Pan‘s all over the place, plagued by overwrought performances, a nonsense narrative and incomprehensible special effects. It’s entirely possible that this naffness is intentional; that it is a throwback to some golden age of fantasy, only seen through the harsh half-light of 3D glasses rather than the rose-tinted spectacles needed for the necessary nostalgic veneer. I imagine it’s like watching Willow on Blu-ray. The script is just as hard on the ears as the spectacle is on the eyes, with every attempt to subvert expectation jarring horribly. At one point Hugh Jackman’s Blackbeard muses on “boys who are lost” and it’s hard not to recall other, equally excruciating attempts made by reboots to paraphrase the original film — The Amazing Spider-man‘s dogged refusal to reuse the line “with great power comes great responsibility”, for instance. Poor Rooney Mara, meanwhile, gets perhaps the worst dialogue of all, forced to effuse about “the Pan” in her role as expositor. Incidentally, much has been made of the supposed whitewashing of Tiger Lily, and honestly it’s hard to buy Wright’s claims that he is simply trying to create a “very international and multi-racial” world when the only named ethnic characters are cast as a traitorous fool, a village elder and martial artist. Needless to say, it’s a career low for Hedlund too, and he made Eragon.
Pan, then, is an unmitigated disaster. Lavishly overproduced, needlessly dense and utterly ridiculous, it’s hard to determine who exactly this movie is for — except, perhaps, for quality-blind audiences thirty years from now who are as nostalgic for the run-off of the twenty-tens as audiences today are for literally anything released in the eighties. Case in point: There is a grandstanding rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as Peter enters Blackbeard’s arena that doesn’t just seem inappropriate or out of place, but downright embarrassing.