It’s unclear when Hollywood’s fascination with origin stories started, but they’re usually attached to superhero, action, or horror films. Director Joe Wright (The Soloist, Hanna) breaks the mold in Pan, and brings Peter Pan’s origin story to life.
Levi Miller stars as Peter, a 12-year-old boy living in a London orphanage during World War II. One day, Peter realizes some of the boys have gone missing and decides to stay up late to find out how they’ve been disappearing. That’s when Peter and his friend see strangely dressed pirates bungee down through the skylights, and snatch boys out of their beds while they sleep. When Peter tries to escape, he’s captured and carried away on a flying pirate ship and taken to a magical floating island known as Neverland.
On Neverland, Peter is enslaved by the evil pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) who’s forcing people to work in the mines and dig for fairy dust. With the help of James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), Peter escapes in hopes of finding his mother, but learns more about his true destiny.
There are some parts of Pan that are fun, and parts that are off-the-wall and incoherent – mostly incoherent. Let’s start with the fun…
Joe Wright is good director and does a great job capturing the different elements of Peter’s story. The orphanage scenes are funny. The Neverland scenes are beautifully shot. And, though very unnecessary, the cloud surfing pirate ships scenes are surprisingly fun.
Levi Miller is fantastic as Peter. He’s actually a great Peter Pan. Miller is easily the star of the film and it’s not even close. Miller plays Peter as equally unsure as he is impatient – just like a child his age would be.
The film is a pretty straight forward fantasy story until the moment it gets to Neverland. As soon as the ship arrives on the island, things start to fall apart. It starts with the entire crowd of dirty men and boys with pix axes singing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Ten Spirit” in unison. There’s no rhyme or reason as to why everyone is singing a modern song. That’s followed by Blackbeard addressing the crowd of people like he’s Immortan Joe in Mad Max: Fury Road.
It was precisely at this point it felt like the script took a hit of acid and the bad trip started.
Hugh Jackman gives a comical performance as Blackbeard. It feels like he’s performing in an SNL sketch about his performances as Blackbeard. From the bad wig to the bizarre pirate accent he adopted, it all feels a little too wacky. Jackman, along with others, are constantly yelling and bugging his eyes out as if moviegoers need a reminder that they’re the bad guys. His name is Blackbeard and he dresses in all black – he’s bad, we get it.
In an effort to outshine Jackman, Garrett Hedlund plays Hook as a goofy sidekick who is as bad at flirting as he is swashbuckling. Hook runs around like a bizarro Indiana Jones when he’s not doing a bad Han Solo impersonation. Hedlund’s performance feels like it belongs in a completely different movie. He’s performing in a Spaghetti Western and nobody told him this was a Peter Pan movie. He literally delivers his lines through the gigantic grin on his face. He looked like he took a hit of the Joker laughing gas from Batman the Animated Series. If Hook didn’t interact with other characters, it would look like they edited his scenes on accident.
Those two performances are followed by Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily. With everyone else overacting, Mara delivering her lines with such seriousness felt even crazier. Watching Mara give 100% was like a great player on a really bad team. As much as she tried, there wasn’t much she could do to help the story.
Besides Peter, every character looks like they belong in a different movie.
The film barrels to a predictable ending that includes two ridiculous scenes – 1) a flying pirate ship battle the rivals the 1,000 mile long runway chase at the end of Fast 6. Seriously, it takes them forever to get to the “fairy hive”. 2) Once Peter realizes his destiny, he has his “Neo” moment. Peter goes from scared kid to Iron Man in 0.2 seconds. It makes sense why this is an origin story because they turned Peter Pan into a superhero. The decision to turn Peter Pan into the next Marvel character was the worst idea in a film full of bad ideas.
There are plenty of nods to the Peter Pan story we know and love, but they feel like winks to remind everyone they’re watching a Peter Pan story and not a senseless fantasy film with modern music. Pan is not just fueled by bad performances; it’s a bad replica of other movies we’ve seen that constantly trades on our nostalgia. It repeatedly straddles the line between fantasy and foolishness. But it’s mostly all foolishness.