Joe Wright’s Pan gives audiences a prequel to the famous literary and cinematic character Peter Pan that offers a renewed take on his origins.
This story takes Peter right back to the beginning with a scene depicting his mother (Amanda Seyfried) leaving him at an orphanage for reasons that aren’t immediately clear. The first half hour or so of the film takes place in that orphanage where the kids aren’t treated very well and there have been quite a few disappearances of late.
I loved this part of the film as it establishes Peter (Levi Miller) as a fearless and curious adventurer who needs to know why things are happening. The dark and dusty orphanage looks great and gives Peter a great playground to sneak around. You would be forgiven for making comparisons to Oliver Twist with the opening as there are no real hints to the magical as yet.
When Peter is abducted by pirates on a flying pirate ship the more fantastical part of the film begins and works really well for the most part. The dogfight between WWII planes and the pirate ship is really weird but looks great. It’s certainly a memorable action sequence and I admire the commitment to the ridiculous seen in this film.
It turns out that orphan kids are being abducted by the pirates so that they can work in a mine where they have to dig for fairy dust -known as Pixum in this adaptation- so that it can be used to grant eternal life.. The leader of the pirates is Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) who has the strangest introduction I’ve seen in a while. He is brought out as everyone sings Smells Like Teen Spirit despite the fact that this film is set during the second World War. It’s probably best that you don’t question it and go along for the ride.
I’d say this is good advice for the film in general. If you just let yourself be absorbed in the story and go along for the ride without questioning things too much then the experience should be an entertaining one. That sounds like I’m trying to make excuses for a bad film which I’m not. It isn’t a bad film by any stretch but there are several aspects of it that don’t quite land.
The most irritating aspect of it is that Peter is heralded as being the answer to a vague prophecy which brings us back to that really tired chosen one narrative that passes for agency for the character. Thankfully it’s kept in the background for much of it but it definitely keeps turning up. Peter’s reaction to it is disbelief that the prophecy could be about him until he finally accepts his destiny. It’s far less interesting than having a character who achieves greatness by his own volition rather than living up to his destiny.
Beyond that the story is fine but feels like a standard chase narrative where Peter, Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) and James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) try to keep ahead of the pursuing pirate forces. Thankfully there are plenty of well put together set piece moments to distract from the obvious formula on display. Notable highlights include an attack on Tiger Lily’s tribal camp where people shot erupt in a series of coloured explosions. There’s also a really cool sequence involving a massive crocodile that is brief yet appropriately intense.
Some of the choices made to alter the mythos were very welcome. Having the natives made up of people from all races rather than literally being Native Americans was a nice touch and the varied designs of the pirates to suggest the same was good. I like the idea of Neverland being representative of the entire world.
Levi Miller makes for a good Peter Pan. There’s a wide eyed dreamer sort of look about him and he is defiant enough without being overly precocious or annoying. He has the acting talent to match wits with his more experienced cast mates and makes for a likeable hero figure. If there are to be sequels then they’d better hurry before he gets much older.
Garrett Hedlund’s James Hook is really well done. He is characterised as an Indiana Jones style adventurer with a touch of Han Solo in him. Could this be Hedlund angling for either role in Disney’s canon? Hedlund’s performance was really impressive, never losing that sense of fun but never getting to the point where he seemed overly camp. I would be interested in seeing what takes him down that dark path to becoming the traditional Captain Hook we all know about.
Rooney Mara’s Tiger Lily is good but never really has enough to do other than spew exposition and offer a competent hand in the action sequences. It’s a shame that there wasn’t more to this character as there were shades of more depth than we get. Her flirtations with Hedlund’s Hook worked pretty well and she had appropriate chemistry with Levi Miller.
Hugh Jackman’s Blackbeard isn’t the most threatening of villains but there’s a very theatrical quality to him. Jackman is clearly having a blast with the role but sometimes feels like a villainous version of Jack Sparrow rather than “the pirate other pirates fear”. He makes for an imposing enough presence but feels a bit too close to what Captain Hook will likely later become. I’d have preferred if there had been something to differentiate him but I enjoyed the character as is.
Visually the film looks great. Neverland is incredibly well designed and there are some really impressive effects sequences. Even Tiger Lily’s exposition scenes look great due to the visual aids she uses. None of Neverland ever feels quite real but there is a definite otherworldly quality to the whole thing that fits the tone of the film. John Powell’s score is incredible and fits the film perfectly.
One major problem it has is suffering from a huge dose of prequel syndrome. That is to say that any opportunity is made to throw in references to the future of these characters. James Hook takes his hand out of the water when he finds out that crocodiles are near or a shoehorned reference to the term “lost boy”. There are many other examples of this that feel a little cringe worthy. None of it really derailed the film for me but it does stick out.
Despite the flaws I would say that Pan is a fun ride while it lasts and should be reasonably diverting for the intended young audience. I’d definitely give it my recommendation.
A fairly engaging attempt to explore the origins of Peter Pan that sometimes suffers a little too much from prequel syndrome but overall manages to entertain.
The story moves along at a solid clip with an entertaining Oliver Twist style opening in an orphanage that establishes Levi Miller’s Peter Pan as a brave and curious adventurer. Once he is kidnapped by pirates and brought to Neverland the magical side of the story kicks in.
It’s not a bad story but very much a standard chase narrative where Peter, Hook and Tiger Lily work to stay ahead of Blackbeard’s pursuing forces. The idea of Peter being the subject of a prophecy doesn’t really work for me as the whole “chosen one” narrative is overplayed and rarely works effectively. It robs the character of a lot of agency. Thankfully the prophecy fits into the background quite a lot but when it is brought up it feels out of place.
There are some really well done set pieces to break up the formulaic nature of the story such as an attack on the Tribal village by the pirates and a short yet memorable sequence involving a massive crocodile.
Levi Miller makes for a good Peter Pan. He feels like a wide eyed dreamer and manages to be defiant without seeming overly precocious. He does a good job against the other members of the cast.
Garrett Hedlund’s James Hook is immensely entertaining and it was an interesting idea to make him an Indiana Jones style adventurer. I wonder what will cause him to go down that dark path.
Rooney Mara’s Tiger Lily is fine but doesn’t have an awful lot to do beyond spew exposition and flirt with Hook. She also lends a hand in the action sequences but not much more than that.
Hugh Jackman’s Blackbeard doesn’t feel all that threatening and is a little too close to the well known Captain Hook characterisation to have his own identity. He is imposing enough and Jackman is clearly having a blast with this role.
Visually the film is incredible and Neverland never fails to look great. There’s some impressive flair in the exposition scenes with the visual aids that Tigerlily uses. Neverland never manages to look real but there is an otherworldly quality to it that works really well. John Powell’s excellent score compliments the film nicely.
Despite some cringe inducing references to Peter Pan lore and a fairly standard narrative this film is a lot of fun and will likely be enjoyed immensely by the target audience. I would definitely say it’s worth a watch.