PLOT: In WW2-era London, young Peter (Levi Miller) is snatched from his orphanage and sent to Neverland, where he’s made a slave under the evil pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). With the help of a roguish fellow prisoner, James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) Peter escapes his fate and discovers a tribe of warriors led by Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) and her father, who believe he is the warrior “Pan” as foretold by their legends.
REVIEW: It’s hard not to admire parts of Joe Wright’s PAN. Bound to be something of a commercial flop, it’s actually far better than the lackluster ads would suggest, although having seen the final film for myself I can understand why Warners is taking the safe road with the way it’s selling this radical re-imagining of J.M Barrie’s tale. An origin story depicting Peter’s early days in Neverland, a prequel to Peter Pan is something no one’s cried-out for up to now, but hey –prequels to THE WIZARD OF OZ and SLEEPING BEAUTY did fine, so why not one for PETER PAN too?
What the ads aren’t telling you is just how bug-nuts Wright’s variation on the Pan legend tends to be at times. Nothing if not imaginative, and far from subtle, Wright brings the same anarchic energy he brought to HANNA and ANNA KERENINA to this, with some inspired lunacy early-on. Peter’s initial adventures in an English orphanage play out like a homage to David Lean’s version of OLIVER TWIST – on crack. The constantly moving camerawork and broad performances give this a fun house vibe, which is only intensified once we move to Neverland. With good 3D effects (complete with an occasional aspect ratio change or two) and dazzling production design (shot by both Wright regular Seamus McGarvey and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E’s John Mathieson), PAN is a great looking flick and Wright seems to have been given carte blanche with creating this new world. With Jackman’s pirate crew introduced singing Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” (obviously added as an opportunity for Jackman to sing a couple of notes), this version of Peter Pan is even more out there than Steven Spielberg’s HOOK.
However, after a downright kick-ass first half-hour, PAN starts to lose steam. While the introduction to Neverland is excellent, once Peter escapes the film becomes a run-of-the-mill chase/adventure flick, with the heavy influence of the PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN flicks hard to ignore. One of the big twists is that in this version of the story, Captain Hook is a two-handed adventurer, played by Garrett Hedlund. Dressed like Indiana Jones but written to be just like Han Solo, this feels like a Lucasfilm audition piece for the actor, and Hedlund entertains consistently, even if his affected John Huston-style of speech goes a little overboard. Like young Miller (who plays Peter with an admirable lack of precociousness) once they go on the run, there isn’t much for them to do but swing swords at pirates and run from things. Peter’s motivation that he wants to find his mysterious mother (played by Amanda Seyfried in a cameo) feels like little more than an excuse to tug at the heart strings. The idea of him being a kind of “chosen one” is also thoroughly unoriginal as compared to the wonder of the original story (why does Peter have to be a Jedi?).
As the marginal love-interest for Hook, Rooney Mara doesn’t get too much to do other than look fetching in her midriff-baring jungle outfits, with her warrior-princess plot/romance with Hook being so reminiscent of STAR WARS it’s almost plagiarism. However, Wright keeps things moving energetically, and the visuals coupled with the great score by John Powell and occasional insane bit of business keep PAN from going too far off the rails. For his part, Jackman seems to be having fun as the camped-up Blackbeard, and many of the wildest scenes involve him. Particularly odd for a kids movie is a bit that shows him smoking pixie dust like opium in order to stay young (I suppose crushing it into dust, cutting it into lines and snorting it would have been too much). Even still, PAN stays pretty family friendly, throughout, with Neverland residents conveniently exploding into colored smoke rather than bleeding when killed. Still, the body count is strangely high.
While it’s a shame PAN isn’t able to live up to the imagination shown in the first half-hour, on the whole it’s still a modestly entertaining family adventure. Ten-twelve year-olds will likely love it, although older kids might prefer something along the lines of THE MARTIAN. Whatever the case, Joe Wright still seems like an incredibly promising director, but hopefully next time he’ll have a strong enough premise that really allows him to unleash his imagination without straight-jacketing him in a STAR WARS clone plot.
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