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The UnPopular Opinion: Pan

01.12.2017

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

There are certain formulas that are prevalent in modern Hollywood: superhero movies and live action fairy tales. These two are popping up more often than anything else these days with Disney holding the majority of both. With Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND kicking off a slew of remakes of Disney animated classics, few of these films have actually been worthy of the material they attempted to reinvent. Some have stayed close to the source material (THE JUNGLE BOOK) while others have taken liberties and fashioned new origin stories (MALEFICENT) but few have done so as uniquely as Joe Wright’s PAN. Wright, an acclaimed filmmaker who had brought fresh eyes with films like ANNA KARENINA, ATONEMENT, and HANNA, delivered his first box office bomb with PAN, the origin story of Peter Pan that many didn’t know they even wanted. The film tanked at the box office but is one of the most underappreciated studio films of the last few years.

Rather than just giving us a live action remake of Peter Pan, like PJ Hogan’s 2003 version, PAN instead imagines a new origin story that takes us to before Peter became Pan, before Hook became a villain, and when the true pirate was Blackbeard. The set and character design of PAN are designed to launch this film as a cinematic universe that could tell countless stories. You can see that the filmmakers wanted to make this the next HARRY POTTER rather than the next SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN but the results are somewhere in the middle. While critics lambasted PAN for being unoriginal, I found the film to be a breath of fresh air anchored by Hugh Jackman’s emphatic performance as the bad guy. It also helps that there is a nice dose of anachronistic musical numbers that makes PAN unlike any other fairy tale reimagining.

Pan, The UnPopular Opinion, Joe Wright, Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Peter Pan, Drama, Action, Garrett Hedlund, Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara

It is easy to see why many have been underwhelmed or disappointed in PAN, especially given Joe Wright’s pedigree as a director. This is, after all, the man who realized ANNA KARENINA almost as a stage play within a film, giving that aged novel a breath of fresh air. But audiences are often expecting to see something new and flashy that doesn’t share any similarities to what they have seen lest they call it a copy or derivative. PAN shares the basic studio sheen of all big budget films, but Wright brings a unique design reminiscent of the steampunk movement coupled with a surreal feel that makes the film feel unreal at the same time as being darker and more real than any previous iteration of the tale. For a film aimed at general audiences, PAN doesn’t push any filmmaking limits but it certainly uses a full pallet to make this film as lush as possible.

Most of what makes PAN work so well lies in the cast. Newcomer Levi Miller is adept at what the role asks for and that is to allow the more seasoned performers to stretch themselves. It may sound counter-intuitive for a film about Peter Pan to focus on everyone else, but this is really a universe-building film. Miller is good, don’t get me wrong, but this movie is really a showcase for Hugh Jackman. The decision to make him Blackbeard and not Hook was an interesting one as Jackman is basically the living embodiment of Disney’s Captain Hook. He is theatrical, over the top, and dastardly in every way. But, Jackman’s theatrical background comes into good use as this film features some musical performances, most notably a version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as the chant for Blackbeard’s crew. Jackman can make even the worst material more enjoyable but he also serves here as a foil for Garrett Hedlund’s Hook who is more of a Han Solo type rogue and Rooney Mara as a very Princess Leia-like Tiger Lilly. A lot of stink was made about the whitewashing element of PAN, but that is just ridiculous.

Pan, The UnPopular Opinion, Joe Wright, Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Peter Pan, Drama, Action, Garrett Hedlund, Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara

Disney’s Peter Pan is a product of a bygone era. The stereotypical Native characters were clearly not designed with tolerance in mind, but Joe Wright envisions his PAN natives as a multicultural slew of every race and ethnicity. The entirety of PAN feels modern and without era which aids in this film not feeling dated in any way. The 2003 film already looks and feels like it was made in the 90s while PAN has a more timeless quality. In a lot of ways, this year's THE BFG feels like a lot like PAN but without as much heart. Every inch of PAN is tangible and real, even in the fully CGI sequences in the final act. From the mining operation to the scenes with Cara Delevigne as a mermaid all lack that artificial sheen that pervades so many big budget films. Hell, I even got used to Garrett Hedlund's vocal performance which sounded many times like an imitation of Heath Ledger's Joker.

While I often lambast how studios do this with other films, I love the universe building set up in PAN. We never find out if Peter's mother (Amanda Seyfried in a brief cameo) was from Neverland, we never see Hook become a bad guy, and we never see Peter become the hero from J.M. Barrie's original tale. What PAN does is set these up for future sequels that will never come to fruition because the big budget didn't recoup the box office. But, unlike many films these days, you cannot ask where the money went as every inch of PAN is immaculately conceived ranging from the cinematography of Seamus McGarvey and John Mathieson to the soaring score by John Powell. PAN works because Joe Wright is a filmmaker of the highest caliber and knows how to entertain. PAN is pure entertainment at it's finest and doesn't need critical acclaim to justify that.

Pan, The UnPopular Opinion, Joe Wright, Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Peter Pan, Drama, Action, Garrett Hedlund, Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara

I urge you to revisit PAN if you have not seen it since it was initially released as the film holds up incredibly well to repeat viewings. The Blu-ray pops the multicolored hues of every scene, especially those in Tiger Lilly's camp and the closing chase through the crystal cave. PAN is a movie that is worth introducing to children who are looking for something that doesn't have the darkness of Harry Potter but still treats the viewer with respect and intelligence. Forget all the naysayers who say this movie isn't any good because it clearly is. We forgive Steven Spielberg for HOOK when PAN is ten times better in every way. A decade from now, it will be an easy choice betweek HOOK and PAN as to which Neverland tale reigns supreme. 

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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