“Resoundingly god-awful” and “theme-park ride from hell,” are just a couple of phrases popular critics are throwing around regarding Joe Wright’s adaptation of Peter Pan. I am quite a fan of Wright’s films, and I also know that every director has at least one film that doesn’t quite happen the way it should. While I don’t share the severity of loathing and repulsion radiating from other critics, I must say the film is quite a shipwreck. Pun entirely intended.
Pan is not entirely without merit. Its ideas for telling the Peter Pan story are incredibly unique. It’s not Peter Pan as we know it, it’s a prequel. As the narrator tells us in the opening scene, it’s a story where friends start out as enemies and enemies start out as friends. These themes and ideas provide a solid foundation, but the house built upon that foundation severely lacks the necessary strength and function. One of the things that grabbed me from the trailer is the notion of Hook being a good guy and wanting to see where/why he goes wrong. Sadly, this is one of many ideas that never fully develops.
In J.M. Barrie’s original story, we never learn who Peter really is or where he comes from. It may be that it was intended to be ambiguous, but I appreciate that Pan at least tries to bring some new things to the table. Writer Jason Fuchs crafts a fairy tale of Peter’s origin as the product of the love between a great warrior woman and a fairy prince. Peter (played actually very well by adorable newcomer Levi Miller) is more than just a mischievous boy who never grows up. Even in the earliest scenes at the run-down, abusive orphanage we see his potential for leadership. It’s in this aspect I find this version of Peter ultimately more interesting than the character in the source material.
Though many critics gripe about the noisy design and special effects, I think they are the more redeemable qualities of the film. I totally dig the Shakespearean/Steam Punk panache we get from Captain Blackbeard, and absolutely entranced by the crystalized, stalactitical realm of the fairy kingdom. Are the costumes, sets, and effects flamboyant and absurd? Absolutely! It’s Neverland, that’s exactly what anyone with an imagination should expect. It’s a place where pirates, Native Americans, fairies, and mermaids all exist together. Neverland, like Wonderland, is anything you can possibly dream it up to be.
Now, where the good ideas go bad…
The first thing that leaps to mind is the horrendously gimmicky musical numbers that Blackbeard and his miners sing in the beginning. First of all, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was already redone as a musical number much more effectively in 2001’s Moulin Rouge. Additionally, these 90s tunes they chose are totally jarring, especially given that no other singing takes place in the film. It seems like Joe Wright is trying to be Baz Luhrmann here, but to what purpose? He’s already established himself as a brilliant filmmaker. Copying another person’s style so overtly is a rookie mistake.
Speaking of overt, the dialogue is most definitely so. Particularly in the second half, everything spoken is so completely on-the-nose even a five year-old might find their intelligence insulted. In the last moments of the film, Peter and Hook (friends at this point) have a quick exchange where Peter asks Hook “We’ll always be friends, right?” and Hook says something like, “Sure, what could possibly go wrong?” Most people watching this movie know the story inside out, there’s certainly been enough reboots of it by now. It was completely unnecessary to drive this point like a nail through our brains. Hook and Peter later become enemies. WE GET IT.
I quite like Garrett Hedlund, who came off like a Han Solo of sorts in his role as James Hook, but his scenes with Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) were nauseatingly confectionary. They “fell in love” so fast it set a record even for fairy tales. Hook even had to explain to the audience he was flirting with her, as if her forced giggles weren’t enough of a tip-off. With such a sensational cast, including the charismatic Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard, the performances should have been a delight. I do not believe it was a lack of ability that made the acting so exaggerated, but more of a lack decent material to work with.
Pan cannot decide whether or not it wants to be a dark comedy/fantasy, or a slapstick family movie. One minute Blackbeard is kicking children off planks to certain death, the next we are bombarded with corny hijinks including a duel on a trampoline… seriously. I personally would have preferred the darker route as this would have aided the maturity level of the story. However, the more pressing matter is the lack of consistency in tone and plot.
I am not one who particularly enjoys writing reviews or analyses on a negative slant. There’s enough of that already out there. However, when it comes to good ideas that go bad, I feel an obligation to speak up. This movie could have and should have been better. I would not label Pan as “bad” in the typical sense. In fact, the audience at my theater was laughing and enjoying it quite a bit at times. However it is profoundly disappointing to anyone who desired it to be more than yet another serving of cinematic junk food.