Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for Fantasy Action Violence, Language and some Thematic Material
Directed by: Joe Wright
Written by: Jason Fuchs
Starring: Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, Amanda Seyfried, Adeel Akhtar, Jack Charles & Cara Delevigne
In the past century, Peter Pan has been brought to life in various carnations on both big and small screens. The former came in an acclaimed Disney classic, a 2003 live-action take on the material and Steven Spielberg’s unofficial sequel HOOK. The latter came in a 2014 musical (which featured Christopher Walken as Captain Hook) and the so-so Syfy miniseries NEVERLAND. PAN serves as a prequel to the classic story about a magical place, a hook-handed pirate, and a flying boy. The film encountered delays regarding its release date. Any movie being pulled from a summer release can usually be taken as a bad sign. That being said, I walked into PAN with lowered expectations and hoped to purely enjoy it on a watchable spectacle level. Apparently, my already dampened hopes were still too high for this mess of a movie.
As a baby, Peter Pan was abandoned on the steps of an orphanage. Twelve years pass and England is in the midst of World War II. The now preteen Peter suspects that orphans are disappearing in the middle of the night. While one child claims that they’re being adopted to Canada, Peter discovers that flying pirates are actually abducting the orphans. Soon enough, Pan is kidnapped and swept away to a magical place called Neverland. This island is full of pirates, natives, fairies, mermaids, man-eating crocodiles, and massive CGI birds. The tyrannical Blackbeard has abducted various orphans to harvest fairy dust for a mysterious purpose, but Peter’s arrival in Neverland seems to trigger an old prophecy. Aided by the adventurous Hook and the soft-spoken Tiger Lilly, Peter Pan must learn how to fly and save the fairies from certain extinction.
Some movies are predictable and boring from the first frame, while others suffer from a confused and aimless story that never seems to know where it’s going. Somehow, the screenplay for PAN manages to be both of these things at the same time. This is meant to serve as a sort of origin story for PETER PAN and it never lives up to that promise. We get familiar faces with a brief Tinkerbell cameo, Hook being a sort of Indiana Jones type hero, and Mister Smee serving as brief obnoxious comic relief. Nothing ever comes out of these characters though. Instead of trying to resemble anything that’s remotely related to PETER PAN lore, PAN instead focuses on really odd, dumb decisions. The most mind-boggling of which has the pirates and their slaves singing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for no apparent reason whatsoever. Another truly strange moment has Hook engaging in a fight on a trampoline against a kung fu savvy native. We also cut to stop-motion and CGI animation that feeds us clichéd exposition. This is all just as jarring as it sounds.
As far as the cast is concerned, I doubt anyone will have this as a shining star on their resumes in the near future. Levi Miller is so-so as a child protagonist, but seems to go through unconvincing shifts in his emotions. Instead of placing the blame on Miller’s young shoulders, I’m going to throw it at director Joe Wright. My evidence to back up this accusation comes from every other performance in this film (including those from more talented cast members). Garrett Hedlund is overacting as Hook and plays the character as an action hero as opposed to the future villain that we know he’ll become. You’d at least suspect that Hedlund would show a little of the darkness that eventually manifests itself in Hook (long past the point of the end credits rolling), but that’s not the case. Amanda Seyfried briefly pops up as Peter’s mother and doesn’t serve much of a purpose. There was a lot of controversy behind the casting of Rooney Mara as Tiger Lilly, but this was all for naught. Instead of being offended that a white woman is playing a role that was originally intended for a Native American, audiences should be more offended that Mara sleepwalks her way through the performance (in a similar manner to her role in the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake).
PAN’s biggest embarrassment comes in Hugh Jackman doing his best evil Jack Sparrow impression. He really seems to be channeling a Johnny Depp level of cartoonish ridiculousness. If there’s anything nice to be said about PAN, it’s that it looks technically well made. There are cool visuals, including the pirate ship soaring through the night skies and a brief encounter with a giant crocodile. On the opposite end of the coin, certain creatures (the giant NeverBirds) are on an absurdly bad Syfy Channel level of special effects.
Eye candy and spectacle only get a movie so far. While PAN has good visuals, pretty much every other aspect of the film undermines that lone good quality. The performances range from dull to embarrassingly over-the-top (I really hope that Hugh Jackman doesn’t turn into the next cartoony Johnny Depp) and the story is both predictable and muddled in confusion. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call this the single worst incarnation of Peter Pan to ever hit the big screen. PAN is a mess and an expensive looking one at that.