Cert: PG / 111 mins / Dir. Joe Wright / Trailer
Did you know that "James Hook" is an anagram of "Han Solo"? Well according to Garrett Hedlund, it is. In fact, there's so much of the Corellian smuggler in his portrayal of Hook that there's barely room to top it up with Indiana Jones; to the point where Hedlund's outfit may as well consist of a t-shirt featuring a head-shot of Harrison Ford. But wait, I'm ahead of myself…
And so, director Joe Wright firmly grasps the wheel of the Warner Bros. ship, bound for a prequel/origins-tale of Peter Pan. Beginning during the Second World War*1, the story follows young orphan Peter as he's abducted by flying clown-pirates and taken to Neverland to mine for crystallised Fairy-Dust™, a substance which serves as the elixir of life to the megalomaniacal pirate overlord, Blackbeard. All the while, hints of Peter's lineage and glimpses of his destiny are revealed, as the journey introduces the friends and foes which will define his life to come.
First things first, Pan looks fantastic*2, and the action set-pieces of the film are executed magnificently. Levi Miller carries the weight of the title-role easily and Rooney Mara is great as warrior-princess, Tiger Lily, his accomplished and intriguing counterpart in Neverland. But it's Hugh Jackman who appears to be having the most fun as Blackbeard, bringing the pompous-camp to the film in full-force, like a matter-transporter mashup of Frank N. Furter and Emperor Palpatine (with the Darth Vader rejuvenation chamber, but I'll get on to that). There's also a spot of product-placement for Fray Bentos, which is something you won't see in too many movies this year. Outstanding work.
The film's stumbling blocks are twofold, however. Most noticeably that Pan borrows far too heavily from other action/adventure/fantasy movies, even if it is a Hero's Journey story. Now my brain is always looking for visual nods to the Galaxy Far, Far Away anyway, but I swear that so many of Pan's beats come from Star Wars that it's barely got time for the Pirates Of The Caribbean tropes it wants to employ. It's honestly no exaggeration to say that either by character archetypes, recurring themes and plot points, or just the action sequences themselves, I was reminded of Star Wars every two-to-three minutes. And it certainly didn't make me enjoy Pan any less, but I don't even get that many Star Wars references when I'm watching Star Wars.
More disconcertingly, the screenplay seems to ignore the central themes of the established Peter Pan mythos, reasoning that they just haven't occurred yet so how can they be important? The film goes a long way to establish the How of the classic story that it ends up leaving the Why to future instalments*3 of this particular strand. The original Peter is a tragic figure who, although helping others through acts of heroism, petulantly refuses to grow up and adapt. And how do you develop a character who by their very definition resists change and urges their contemporaries to follow suit? None of these issues are even hinted at in Pan, meaning sequels to this film will either get a hell of a lot darker, or will just ignore the original subtext completely.
Visually, Joe Wright's entry to the canon is a finely executed fantasy adventure movie, but thematically its reach exceeds its grasp, somewhat. There are slightly too many knowing, post-modern winks for the film to be the classical adventure it aspires to, but Wright also relies too heavily on good old-fashioned derring do for this to be a fresh take on the mythos.
In terms of sheer entertainment however, this film is a notable success.
While I certainly wouldn't go so far as to call Pan the cinematic equivalent of fast-food, it's certainly a meal which has been prepared by looking at the menus of other restaurants…
For the casual audience, yes. Although fans of J.M. Barrie may want to wait for the home-release, to save them being thrown out of the cinema for yelling "You're doing that WRONG!" during the performance…
You'll lose a lot of the visual impact watching this at home, but it'll be a one to buy and watch back-to-back with other adaptations of the mythos, if only for contrast, not comparison..
Levi Miller's performance is occasionally heavy on the "child actor" front, but he handles the part very well and I look forward to seeing him in future roles. Or even just future-takes on this one.
Mythologically/thematically? Not particularly.
Not that I heard, but I'd be amazed if there isn't one buried somewhere.
In addition to my opening snark above, Pan features Garett Hedlund, who appeared in Inside Llewyn Davis along with Oscar 'Poe Dameron Isaac and Adam 'Kylo Ren' Driver.
*1 In a move which may well boil the piss of continuity-hounds everywhere. My knowledge of the Peter Pan story itself is fuzzy admittedly, but I was under the impression it's set about forty years before this movie in late-Victorian times, and it's also heavily implied that Peter knew Wendy's mother when she was a little girl. Now, the film does establish that Neverland is dimensionally set aside from Earth-time, and that there are children 'from all places and times' there. And yet, I didn't notice anyone asking where all the Playstations are, or making jokes about Kim Kardashian. So if the film eventually segues into Peter Pan as is implied by the opening narration, you'll have a boy from one decade bringing a child from an earlier one into a timeless realm which nevertheless has its own chronological continuity, whilst also knowing her mother from a time earlier still, when he took her to the same place after the events of the Pan film. A place where they sing a capella Nirvana and Ramones songs (no, seriously). Frankly, it's a space-time continuum disaster waiting to happen.
But not to worry; thematically, the film has far bigger issues which it's completely ignoring ;)
*2 Although for some reason the animation of the mermaids looks utterly dreadful. Like someone's printed a picture of Cara Delevingne's face onto a sheet and waved it about underwater...
*3 That's not me being cynical, by the way. This film is definitively written as the opening-chapter of a series, rather than a one-off standalone prequel. Besides, when was the last time you watched a 21st century family adventure movie which wasn't geared up for sequels?
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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