Who exactly asked for a Peter Pan origin story?
Pan, from Director Joe Wright and Screenwriter Jason Fuchs, is Warner Brothers’ blatant attempt to start a Peter Pan movie franchise. That’s not a terrible thing on the surface. I’m sure there are several great Peter Pan stories that filmmakers could come up with to entertain audiences for decades. This one is not one of them.
The story follows orphan Peter (Levi Miller) as he gets into trouble with his pal Nibs (Lewis MacDougall) in WWII-London. However, many of the orphans have been disappearing as of late and Peter and Nibs decide to stay up late one night on a stakeout. Before you know it, Peter is kidnapped by pirates working for Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), who sails the skies on a flying ship and enslaves all the orphans he kidnaps in Neverland. Why does he enslave them? He needs the children to mine for pixie dust or Pixum, which is basically pixie dust in rock form. Blackbeard has all but destroyed all the pixies in Neverland, but he needs their magic for his own nefarious purposes. While enslaved, Peter meets James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and Hook’s sometimes-ally Smee (Adeel Akhtar). When Peter runs afoul of one of the guards, he is sentenced to death and is forced to walk the plank. Just before he hits the ground, though, Peter flies in order to save himself. He’s just as surprised as everyone else as he’s generally afraid of heights. Blackbeard summons him and we learn that there is a prophecy (oh no…) about a chosen one (groan….) who will be a flying boy and depose Blackbeard. Peter and Hook manage to escape with the help of Smee and seek refuge with the native peoples of Neverland—the ones who started the prophecy. Their leader is Princess Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), a great warrior, who needs Peter’s help to rally the remaining pixies to overthrow Blackbeard. Will they succeed? Will Peter overcome his fear and self-doubt and fly again? Of course he will—you’ve seen Peter Pan, right?
The ultimate problem with this movie is that it is a prequel. There is barely any tension in this at all, because anyone vaguely familiar with the Peter Pan story knows how it will all turn out. Fuchs’ screenplay was apparently on the famed Black List of great unproduced scripts, but the more I see of the films getting produced off that list, the more I lose faith in it. This film is an absolute mess. The tone is all over the place and the story is just a lame attempt to turn Peter Pan into Harry Potter. Again, a Peter Pan movie series could be really cool, but no one needed a Peter Pan origin story. The other egregious error this film makes is that it implies that Peter is the only one who can fly. Well, anyone who has seen or read Peter Pan knows that’s not true. The pixie dust helps people fly as long as they believe. Apparently, only Peter needs to believe he can fly and he’s the only one who can do it. It attaches a “specialness” to Peter that is not needed. Another annoying issue for me was the terrible ADR work to tone down some of the language. When you watch this thing, you can clearly see some of the characters say “damn,” but your ears will hear “darn.” It was amateur night and depressing for such a big Hollywood film. I would have cared more about it, but I was so bored by this thing it became a small quibble for such an obvious mistake.
As I said, the tone is all over the place and that is seen best in the performances. Miller plays Peter as a normal kid, scared out of his wits, while Jackman and Hedlund ham it up in their roles. Jackman has a few scenes where he plays it straight, but they’re few and far between. I’m not saying I didn’t like Jackman’s performance—if anyone should be over the top in a film like this, it should be the guy piloting the flying sailboat—but I really didn’t need him leading the cast in a rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Yes. That happens in this movie. I don’t know where Hedlund’s head was at while playing Hook. Every OTHER word HE says IS emphasized FOR effect! His characterization is beyond cartoony and the filmmakers really go out of their way to paint Hook and Tiger Lily as Han Solo and Princess Leia, a move that fails spectacularly.
The film is pretty, though, and the visuals were pretty cool, for the most part. The 3D was even okay, but the story is so shoddy it’s not even worth your time. Instead, watch Harry Potter or Star Wars or hell, watch the Disney’s Peter Pan or Spielberg’s Hook. All of them are superior to Pan, which makes sense, because Pan ripped them all off.