Director Joe Wright’s “Pan” was slated to be released this summer, but has now been postponed. Amidst a crowded market of early awards-season contenders and the continuing success of “Hotel Transylvania 2” in the children’s demographic, Wright’s “Pan” will definitely suffer at the box office as a result of its rescheduling. It’s suffering critically as well, but I am here to tell you that it isn’t the complete disaster it’s been branded.
“Pan” is a prequel re-imagining of J.M. Barrie’s classic “Peter Pan” tale. Jason Fuchs’ script attempts to explain in workmanlike fashion how Peter, Hook, and Tigerlily met, how Blackbeard was defeated, and why Peter is so attached to Neverland. The outline of this story is actually interesting, but it is sadly lost in sloppy editing and half-cooked effects.
Peter (Levi Miller) is abandoned in an orphanage, where he constantly gets himself and his friends in trouble. In a fantastical tone-setting sequence, the cruel nuns who run the place decide they’ve had enough and invite sky-pirates from Neverland to abduct the naughty children. Once in Neverland, Peter befriends a young Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and meets a theatrical Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman).
For whatever reason, the pirates and Blackbeard’s fairy dust miners sing a rousing chorus of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” when we first meet them. It’s delightfully bonkers. But it’s not an attempt at conveying a deeper message with Blackbeard’s character, who seems to subvert the song’s anti-establishment heart for his own industrialism. However, it’s one of many good ideas that seem buried in studio interference.
For every good idea here, there’s at least five that are clearly aimed at the youngest of young kids. There are two shrill, lifeless computer-animated birds that create the most apathetic chase sequence ever. There’s a goofy hand-to-hand fight sequence on some cable cars and even a trampoline sequence with obnoxiously bright colors. Need I go on?
On the acting side of things, Jackman’s Blackbeard and Hedlund’s Hook are textbook opposites of each other in terms of how to give a great over-the-top performance. Jackman lunges into Blackbeard, chewing scenery even as he occasionally gives the character some nuance. Hedlund, on the other hand, strains to chew scenery but ends up looking like a mad dog because he yells each line. It might be the worst screen performance I’ve seen this year. I was rooting for the villainous Blackbeard to win in the end, because at least he could act.
Probably the most talked-about problem with “Pan” is its miscast Tigerlily. Rooney Mara is one of my favorite contemporary actresses, and she acted the part well. I was excited about the prospect of her working with Joe Wright, whose films I largely enjoy. But there is no excuse for casting Mara in a role that should have gone to a Native American. Wright—or perhaps Warner Brothers—compounds the problem by populating the “Indian” cast with East Asian actors.
“Pan” actually does have one excellent sequence. There is a moving wood carving, telling the story of Peter’s mother. That scene alone almost makes the film worth a rental, but unfortunately the film continues afterwards with a lot of static exposition, and never recovers its spark.
“Pan” = 2/5
“Pan” is now playing in theaters nationwide.
(Rated PG for fantasy action violence, language and some thematic material)