Pan and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Joe Wright
Raise your hand if you were dying to hear the untold story of how Peter Pan got to Neverland? Anyone? So who exactly is this movie for!? Well I guess we’re about to find out because after MONTHS of having to see that trailer, the movie is finally in theaters! Will it be yet another prequel that fails to bring anything new to the table and is soon forgotten, or is it unlike pretty much every other prequel ever made? Let’s find out!!
The movie is about young Peter (Levi Miller) who’s stuck in a British Orphanage during World War Two who as you’d expect is a precocious brat who doesn’t take well to authorities. The orphanage is run by a corrupt nun who reminds me of the Trunchbull from Matilda (except she’s far less likeable) and it seems that she has a side business going where she sells the orphans to space pirates for profit and so that she can keep their rations all to herself. I’m sorry, what?
Peter among many other kids at the orphanage (who you’d think would have prominent roles later but actually disappear from the movie entirely) are kidnapped by pirates of the infamous Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) who make it back to Neverland after getting into a dogfight with British aircraft. Okay, so do people know what the fuck Neverland is? It’s clear that this isn’t the first time kids have been taken from this orphanage, so the pirates must have taken their really big flying schooners over London several times by now. How the hell did they even strike a deal with the nun here to grab kids in the first place? Furthermore, the military are reacting to this like it’s the first time they’ve seen it, but it’s not like they JUST STARTED to watch the city’s airspaces (we’re in the middle of the Blitz for crying out loud), so what about the other times the pirates showed up? This is only fifteen minutes into the film people! Once they get to Neverland, the kids are added to Blackbeard’s considerable workforce of child slaves and they’re all searching for Fairy Dust deep within Neverland’s surface. While there, he meets James Hook and Smee (Garrett Hedlund and Adeel Akhtar) who have clearly been working there for way too freaking long (both look like they’re at least thirty) and he also finds out that he can fly though he’s really only able to do it once to save his own life. This apparently marks Peter as THE CHOSEN ONE (ugh…) which puts him immediately on Blackbeard’s shit list. The three eventually escape to the Neverland Forest and Peter is in search of the Neverland Natives to find out if he really is the chosen one and if they can tell him where his mother is who left him at the orphanage so long ago. This is also the least convincing tribe of all time because they look like a summer camp more than anything else and of course the very white Rooney Mara is playing Tiger Lilly. Uh huh. Well the tribe believes that he may be… THE PAN (ugh…) but he has to prove himself first by flying again even though Peter was only able to do it that one time. Not only that, but he needs to move quick because Blackbeard is slashing his way through the forest to find the Tribe, Peter, and possibly a new source of Fairy Dust that he so desperately needs. Will Peter Potter be the next Boy Who Lived? Will Mr. Hook officially become a Captain with one less appendage? Will somebody PLEASE tell me who thought this was a good idea!?
Whenever I saw the trailers for this movie I always predicted that this would be an unbelieve train wreck that can only come about by a studio being extremely confident in very shitty material. While it’s certainly more watchable than I ever could have expected, this is indeed a train wreck. This is two trains, one made of gold and one made of silver, colliding into each other in slow motion while their cargo of diamonds rubies, sapphires, and commemorative coins go flying everywhere. Oh, and they crashed into each other at a fireworks factory. What I’m saying is that this movie has a staggering amount of problems that keep it from being a GOOD movie, but it’s still an absolute marvel to behold. It’s a garish and ostentatious display for material that couldn’t even hack it on the shelves next to the most cynical young adult series. It has moments that are completely inexplicable and show potential for something far more interesting, yet the movie just seems content to go right back to paint by numbers story which leaves these moments as unexplained aberrations rather than a natural if odd piece of this world they want to build up. No thought. No care. Just money.
The biggest failing in this movie is its script, so let’s get into that. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie that’s this close to a Joseph Campbell Mad Libs that wasn’t actually based on a weak sauce Harry Potter knock off book. The conventions of the Monomyth on their own can be used to lay the groundwork for a unique and well written story (look no further than the aforementioned Harry Potter), but the problem with this movie is that it has NOTHING more to offer than just the Monomyth itself. Characters are completely cliché and they manage to hit every note of un-originality that this material can have. Call to adventure? Peter gets kidnapped by Neverland pirates, so check. Road of trials? Escaping from Blackbeard and trying to learn how to fly, so check. The achieving of a goal which often results in the discovery of important self-knowledge? You bet your ass that’s a check!! Sure, you can lay this foundation upon any number of wonderful stories, but that’s not what you love about them now is it? You don’t appreciate a painting because it was painted upon a well-made canvas; you like what they did TO that canvas! Harry Potter may have been about wizard Jesus, but they also set up a world that’s been kept secret from us for thousands of years! They included aspects of growing up, making friends, surviving school, and even the realities of living through a destructive war! There’s nothing in Pan that’s developed for any other reason than to serve the ONE TRUE HERO plot line. Conversation after conversation with this kid are simply telling him to try and be the hero that they need and giving him bullshit tests to prove his worthiness. There’s no creativity or character to any of this! The money is there and it at least LOOKS like it may have something unique going on, but all the artistry that that they threw on that screen was covering up a script that does not feel finished. Bare bones is putting it mildly.
If it wasn’t bad enough that his movie had no plot and no characters, it also feels the need to cheekily reference the other versions of this story constantly and it does so with about as much tact and care as everything else having to do with the script. It’s even more cynical because despite having so many references to what will happen later, the movie’s ending makes it clear that whatever future these characters have will not match up with the story they are so desperate to remind you of. I won’t say anything specifically, but there’s a romance here that doesn’t fit and they kill someone off who’s a very important and iconic fixture of the Peter Pan story. Now to be fair, I never actually read Peter Pan and my knowledge of the franchise is limited to the Disney film and Hook (which is still the best Peter Pan movie by the way) so MAYBE this is going off of something from there but I doubt it. I got all the references they were making so I’m guessing they’re pulling more from the modern day perception Peter Pan which may or may not have deviated from the source material.
The script ALMOST has a saving grace, but it’s squandered. The movie seems like it wants to toy with the idea that Neverland exists outside of the real world but also outside of time as well which means that Blackbeard has kidnapped children from all ages and eras. This is perfectly realized when Blackbeard and his slave workers begin to sing Smells Like Teen Spirit before he gives a speech. No really, they start belting out Nirvana in this movie as well as Blitzkrieg Bop from The Ramones. It’s a genius way to differentiate this interpretation of Neverland from what we’ve seen before, but it’s never developed. Outside of these two songs which are fairly early in the movie, they never make good on the concept of integrating technologies and cultures from various times. It all goes back to pirate ships, sabers, and flintlock pistols after that, so these scenes which SHOULD have been the start of something great just come off as random asides that the film maker wanted to throw in there. Speaking of random asides, I’ll do one of my own. There are birds in the Neverland Forest that I swear are modeled off of The Giant Claw from the 1957 movie of the same name. I have no idea why, but it’s there. It’s just another random thing they throw in here, but I actually liked that one.
Despite its innumerable flaws, the movie does have to positive aspects. The first is that this movie is more garish than any you will see that doesn’t have Tarsem Singh or Baz Luhrmann in the credits. It’s all meaningless fluff, but it’s effective at that with beautiful cinematography throughout and some creative imagery. It doesn’t amount to a whole lot, but take on its own it’s very well crafted. The other thing that works in this movie is Hugh Jackman playing Blackbeard by way of Commedia Dell’arte. Okay, he’s not wearing a mask, but his performance is no less over the top. He is a delight to watch on screen and is the only actor here who makes the most of what they have. Granted, he’s the closest to a complete character in this (Peter is an avatar, Hook is a weak sauce Han Solo, Smee is a bumbling idiot, and Tiger Lilly is a cliché ice queen) but Hugh Jackman still manages to bring life and energy to this movie just through his performance which is something the movie desperately needed.
The movie that this will most likely get compared to is Jupiter Ascending which I wouldn’t say is an unfair comparison, but I liked that movie so much more than this one. Both of them have a lot of money on screen for a story line we’ve seen a million times before; Pan being the Monomyth and Jupiter Ascending being a fairy tale. The thing is that Jupiter Ascending, whether or not you believe it succeeded, made the effort to give the world it was creating life outside of the main quest. We saw different lifeforms going about their daily life, intergalactic police forces and the way those operated, corporate culture when it goes to a galactic scale, and even a horrifying glimpse of a bureaucracy on steroids. In Pan, we have the miners who work for Blackbeard who are just window dressing, the native tribe that doesn’t seem to have anything going on other than repelling Blackbeard and waiting for THE PAN, and we have the fairies that are basically just background decoration and a goal for Blackbeard to strive for. A whole colony of MacGuffins if you will. Nothing in this creates a world of interest outside of Peter’s story because no one here cared to. Jupiter Ascending had passion and love from idealistic artists behind the camera, while this feels like it’s from a cold and cynical machine that’s malfunctioning (hence the random weirdness here and there). Maybe if this movie had come out in the post summer doldrums I would have been a bit kinder to it, but we’ve already gotten a quite a few good movies in the last couple weeks and there are plenty of better ones on the horizon. If you’ve seen everything else this that’s out right now, then this might be good for a laugh. I certainly did enjoy it as a bad movie but if you actually want to see a good movie there are much options candidates at the moment. The movie may have Hugh Jackman’s energetic performance and some really great visual moments here and there, but it just can’t bring these elements together in a meaningful way due to a painfully lackluster script and a general sense of uncertainty from the filmmakers (or maybe too much certainty about lousy ideas).
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