Pan (2015) is the live action prequel to the classic story of Peter Pan. As usual, I begin with disclaimers. As a kid, I was never a fan of the Disney version. I never liked the animation or characters. But a few years later the magnificent Hook came out and I loved it. It made me understand why Peter Pan was a classic character, and also gave me a version I could enjoy. The live action remake, Peter Pan (2003), was serviceable, mostly due to Jason Isaacs. So when Pan was announced I was intrigued. I’m always open to reimaginings. But on the other hand, the trailer did not fill me with confidence and sometimes (coughstarwarsprequelcough) filling in backstory can be detrimental to a character’s mystique.
This review contains some spoilers.
Peter lives in an orphanage in London, complete with strict nuns and nothing but porridge to eat. During the night the boys are kidnapped by pirates on a flying ship. They are taken to Neverland, where Captain Blackbeard forces them to dig for pixum (crystallised fairy dust) in a huge mine. Blackbeard, played by Hugh Jackman, becomes convinced Peter is the one prophesied to lead the tribes against him. Peter escapes with his new friend James (Garrett Hedlund) to find his mother and if he really is the chosen one to help the natives and fairies free Neverland.
The opening sequence of Peter and his orphan friend trying to outsmart the nuns is cute. The child actors are surprisingly emotive. Then the pirates arrive and the ship flies over London during the blitz. It was amazing. They arrive at Neverland and it’s beautifully realised in great 3D. Then we are taken into the mines, and suddenly everything just goes a bit… weird.
Neverland is suppose to be beautiful and exciting. Here the first real shot of Neverland is in a bleak mine reminiscent of the workers in Stargate, the movie. Captain Blackbeard rules over them like an Amadeus-obsessed Immortan Joe. I like a lot of over-stylized movies (I’m a big fan of stuff like A Knight’s Tale, where historical accuracy goes out the window and costume designers can have fun). Here, however, there is a disconnect between Captain Blackbeard, my general perception of the world, and the other characters. I’m not sure what they were going for. He just doesn’t look like he fits in. Dustin Hoffman in Hook was over-the-top, but he was glorious. Jackman doesn’t look like he’s having fun with it. Blackbeard’s costume is crazy and whimsical, but he is dark and moody beyond comprehension. Also, despite all that, he is still too close to Captain Hook to be a new villain.
A lot of the elements of the film clash with each other like that. At its core, the plot and the character of Peter Pan are interesting. I’ve often wondered how far someone would go if they wanted to get some fairy dust for themselves. Levi Miller does a good job with what he’s given. But changing the character of Peter Pan into a standard “chosen one” is probably my pick for biggest mistake (though it’s a tough call). Peter is suppose to be on Neverland because he is the boy who wouldn’t grow up. He is not a leader of men (or fairies). This is Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland all over again. Peter Pan is not young adult fiction.
The depiction of the tribes is another issue I could go into, but instead I’ll just mention another wardrobe oddity: Tigerlily’s. One second she is spacy/rainforest tribe, but in one scene she wears a tribal-inspired uniform thing, straight from a catwalk. It’s indicative of the film as a whole. I was constantly asking “why did they do it this way?” instead of simply enjoying the film. Why does the world look so good, but the cgi birds look like they were copied from the 90s? Why do all the members of the tribe look like they come from different tribes? Why do the fairies need Peter to tell them to fight when they do all the fighting on their own? Why- to any and all acting choices. I’m not saying it’s all bad, I’m just wondering why that particular design/choice at that moment.
This has been one long list of complaints, but I’m not angry at the film. It did not feel long. I would not say I was ever bored. I did want to see where we would end up.
While not all of the elements mesh together, the film did feel like people enjoyed making it. I liked the fighting and the choice to make people die in puffs of smoke (no “why?” there – for the kids, of course). I did like Peter as a character. He was sympathetic. But there are so many other odd acting choices that he almost looks too normal by comparison. Hedlund’s character, for example, acts slightly off kilter for the whole film without any explanation. It’s very slight, and I suppose it was foreshadowing, only without a backstory.
Pan was, for me, an odd one. I can’t get over the hope I felt during the opening sequence. I love reimaginings and I love beautiful world building, but this film just had too much, but it lacked the crucial stuff. The addendum to Pan’s backstory was not a welcome one because it simply goes against what the character represents.
Dice roll: 3