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Peters Out

Warner Brothers
 111 Minutes
Rated: PG
Directed by: Joe Wright 
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller, Garrett Hedlund

Because J. H. Barrie’s classic Peter Pan is in the public domain, any writer or filmmaker who wants to is free to have a go at it and create his or her own version of Neverland. So, it should come as no surprise that director Joe Wright, best known for his adaptations of reknowned literary works like Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, and Anna Karenina, would try to rework the story of the boy who never grew up. Unfortunately, the resulting movie, called simply Pan, seems more the product of amateurish hacks who themselves have never grown up.


Pan is an origin story, intended to explain how Peter, Captain Hook, Tinkerbell, Tiger Lily, and the other characters came to be. Of course, no one was actually clamoring for an explanation. Be that as it may, it seems that Peter Pan is actually from Neverland originally, the child of an earthly mother (Amanda Seyfried) and a fairy father who assumed human form for one day, then died. His mother drops the infant Peter off at a London orphanage in the 1930’s, where he grows into a tweenage boy (played by newcomer Levi Miller).


The nuns running the orphanage aren’t the usual group of cruel orphanage nuns out of a Dickens novel; instead they have an arrangement with pirates from Neverland that allows the buccaneers to sneak into the orphanage at night, abscond a few lads who won’t be missed, and fly off in their pirate ship to outer space. These pirates don’t take orders from Captain Hook; instead, their leader is Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), who puts the boys to work digging in the mines for glowing crystals called pixum. Pixum, when smoked like, say, crystal meth, has the ability to keep Blackbeard young, so he’s constantly trying to find more.


Although he’s not in command of the pirates or even a captain, and he still has two hands, Hook (Garrett Hedlund) is present in Neverland as well, working the mines beside all ages of other prisoners. It seems that Blackbeard has been crisscrossing planet Earth for centuries looking for more mine workers and caught Hook on one of his forays. The younger, pre-hook Hook befriends Peter, although the friendship seems destined to be short lived when Blackbeard makes Peter walk the plank off his ship which is hundreds of feet above the mines. Fortunately for Peter, he learns at that exact moment that having a fairy father has its advantages, the primary one of which is the ability to fly. Peter and his new flying power helps Hook escape, and the two make their way to the other end of Neverland.


That part of Neverland is inhabited by a native tribe whose members look like a non-cannibalistic version of the tribe from The Green Inferno and whose characterization seems gratuitously quasi-racist. Somehow, that tribe has produced a princess named Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), who seems more at home in Hollywoodland than Neverland. Unfortunately, Peter and Hook attract the attention of Blackbeard, who follows them and threatens to exterminate the entire tribe if he doesn’t find the source of the pixum, the secret mines of the fairies.


If the above explanation sounds completely moronic, it is, and I’ve actually touched a bit so that it makes more sense here than it did when I saw it in the theater. And I didn’t even mention the supposedly serious combat that Hook engages in with the “champion” of the native tribe that kidnaps him. The fight takes place on the local version of the trampoline and resembles a homemade video a teenager might post on Youtube. Of course, movies meant for youngsters don’t necessarily have to have plots that make complete sense, and there is a lot of silly childish material in Pan but there’s also some content that has a definite adult edge to it, such as Blackbeard’s unholy fascination with Tiger Lily, which is played up when he captures her. And, the violence in the movie is starkly real, including a scene in which boys who do walk the plank fall hundreds of feet in the air to the cheers of the mob below (the mob is singing 80’s rock tunes, yet another bit of Pan’s bizarre silliness.


Pan’s inconsistent tone extends to the characterizations as well. Jackman can’t seem to decide from one scene to the next whether he’s playing a foppish buffoon or a sadistic tyrant with a rather unhealthy lust for Rooney Mara. While we’re on that subject, it might be noted that Tiger Lily is supposedly a native American, but Mara is about as lily-white a Lily as one could possibly imagine. Garrett Hedlund apparently watched too many Harrison Ford movies in preparation for this role, since his portrayal of Hook is pretty much an attempt to channel every one of them as if he were eating a lemon while reciting his lines. Only young Miller acquits himself well here. He is a child actor with some promise.


Technically, Pan is pretty much of a mess too. The production design is first rate, from the gloomy orphanage where Peter lives at the start of the movie, to the quarry where he is sent to work, and especially to the lavish cavern where the final showdown between Blackbeard’s flying ship and Hook’s newly found Jolly Roger takes place. Every one of these sequences is quite inventive… as long as the camera stays still.


Pan is a 3D movie though, and director Wright is determined to give his viewing audience a 3D thrill in virtually every scene. Each shot is arranged for maximum 3D effect, which means that viewers get to see lots of objects hurtling out of the screen seemingly straight at them. It also means that any attempts at continuity and coherent second unit work go by the boards. The final showdown takes up 15 minutes of time, and for the majority of that time, viewers will have no idea what’s actually happening. Wright’s inexperience in action filmmaking is especially telling here.


The world didn’t need another Peter Pan movie in 2015, be it prequel, sequel, remake or even a documentary about the peanut butter brand. It most assuredly didn’t need Pan, a film that’s far more likely to make young viewers less interested in the original material than to rekindle an interest in any other version. Fittingly, J. M. Barrie’s mythical land where Peter, Hook, and the rest dwell is called Neverland, because that’s the realm to which this dismal cinematic effort should be eternally banished.

Read other reviews of Pan:


Pan (2015) on IMDb