All flash, no fun, in shipwrecked ‘Pan’
Full disclosure: I went to see Pan, the new live-action Peter Pan movie, with extreme prejudice. As someone who has cheerfully adulterated J. M. Barrie’s classic for her own devices, I’m leery of anyone else doing the same. And I’m very possessive of the way “my” characters (let alone Barrie’s) are portrayed onscreen.
I wish I could say I was pleasantly surprised by Pan. But it’s even worse than I imagined, in every way that matters; there’s no story that makes any kind of sense on its own terms, no characters we’re invested in who share a sense of camaraderie, no fresh dialogue. In short, no fun. Pan comes up goose eggs in every department, opting instead for insanely huge and irrelevant CGI effects that pummel the joy right out of it.
I had high hopes for director Joe Wright, who directed two of my favorite post-millennial literary adaptations (Pride and Prejudice and Atonement). But Jason Fuchs’ script is an ill-conceived origin story that makes hash out of the original’s time frame and sensibility. Not that Barrie’s world of perverse feral children isn’t ripe for a little tweaking, but Fuchs’ revision replaces the familiar story with an equally derivative adventure plot that borrows heavily from other, better, sources, like Oliver Twist and Star Wars.
Twelve-year-old Peter (wide-eyed newcomer Levi Miller) grows up in a London orphanage run by ferocious nuns. One night during World War II, while the Nazis are bombing the city, Peter and some other boys are snatched up into a flying pirate ship that whisks them away to Neverland. There they join the ranks of captive child slave laborers mining the caverns for “pixium” (i.e. pixie dust), which pirate captain Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) has been using to rejuvenate himself for the past 220 years.
It’s not much of a life for a pirate—no women, no plunder, and nothing to spend it on—so why he wants to sustain it eternally is just one of the many things that doesn’t add up. Tipping on a precipice one day, Peter astounds everyone, including himself, by flying across the gorge, and it turns out there’s a prophecy that Blackbeard will be defeated by a boy who can fly. This is big news to the native tribes who live in the lush greenbelt over the hill from the mine, and need to stop the pirates before they despoil the entire island.
There was much ado in the media when Rooney Mara was cast as native princess Tiger Lily. But it’s clear in the film that the tribes are not Native Americans, just a bunch of exotics speaking in vaguely British accents. Not so James Hook (Garrett Hedlund); in this version, Barrie’s well-spoken Etonian is a blond American (curiously one of the few adults) laboring in the mine, spouting a line of trite, patently “cocky” dialogue that would make Han Solo cringe. He befriends Peter (Hook calls him “kid”), and they steal an extra pirate ship that happens to be floating around and fly off to join the princess in her fight against oppression.
Did I mention there’s an entire flotilla of flying pirate ships hovering above the island? Why do they fly? Who knows, but evidently that’s not what they’re using the pixie dust for. If every ship is airborne anyway, what’s the big deal that Peter can fly? The story of Peter’s birth might have had some resonance, but it’s told in a confusing underwater animation sequence that’s completely incomprehensible. And the only reason for bumping up the time frame to the 1940s (from the turn-of-the-century original) is so one of the flying pirate ships can have a dogfight with the Luftwaffe. No, I’m not kidding.
Who is this movie aimed at? Wright says he made it for his son, but it’s hardly magical enough to enthrall kids (and it’s way creepy when the pirate ships blast the Fairy Kingdom with flame throwers), while adults will feel bored and/or bludgeoned (often at the same time). The wheezy plot won’t interest young hipsters—not even in 3D. It’s a shipwrecked extravaganza for an audience that doesn’t exist.
* (out of four)
With Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, and Levi Miller. Written by Jason Fuchs. Directed by Joe Wright. Rated PG. 111 minutes.
A FLOP IN THE PAN Even the star-studded cast of ‘Pan,’ which includes Hugh Jackman as Captain Blackbeard (pictured), Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, and Levi Miller, cannot keep the movie afloat.