Movie Review: “Pan”

Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara
Joe Wright

You’d be hard pressed to find another movie released this year as unnecessary as “Pan.” Origin stories are a thing at the moment, even though they are the last refuge of the scoundrel, a telltale sign of creative bankruptcy. Interestingly, this retelling of Peter Pan is from Joe Wright, who’s delivered some good (“Hanna”) to great (“Atonement”) work of late. How did he get caught in the origin story trap? It’s unclear, but his “Pan,” despite its needlessness, is surprisingly entertaining, with a couple of moments that owe a debt of gratitude to “Moulin Rouge.” This is a good thing, in case you weren’t sure.

A newborn Peter (Levi Miller) is left at the front door of a UK orphanage by his mother (Amanda Seyfreid). Twelve years later, World War II has erupted, and Peter is still at the orphanage, hopeful that his mother will return for him, largely because the nuns who run the orphanage are awful and corrupt. One night, Peter and nearly everyone in the orphanage are kidnapped by flying pirates (you read that right) and brought to Neverland to live with Captain Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), where they’re told that they are finally free, but really they’re just a different kind of slave, and spend their days digging for a rare element with special powers. Peter finds a piece, but is ultimately forced to walk the in-air plank after someone steals the gem and accuses him of a crime that he didn’t commit. Incredibly, Peter begins to fly just before hitting the ground, and Blackbeard fears that Peter is the boy that an old legend says will be his undoing. Miner James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) takes Peter under his wing (with conditions), and the two manage to escape Blackheard’s clutches, only to discover that they have a whole new battle ahead of them, while Blackbeard’s crew is hot on their trail.

There is much more to the story, but it mainly boils down to a near-terminal dose of cinematic pixie dust. Then again, this is Peter Pan we’re talking about, a story where pixie dust is actually a plot device (the magical gems that Blackheard is hoarding). In addition, consider the part where Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) explains to Peter that he will know the truth about his mother once he submerges himself in a nearby river, because the river somehow knows all, and can show it all to him in the form of crude animation. This river has “Lake Placid”-sized crocodiles, by the way – and there is a nice bit involving James and the water, and what’s to come – but neither Peter nor James seems the least bit scared to get wet for long periods of time, because the story can’t advance otherwise, crocs be damned.

It’s great to see Mara put the gloomy stuff aside for a moment and embrace a family film. Indeed, the film needs someone with her gravitas to sell the part of Tiger Lily. Most of her dialogue is of the expository variety, which means that it’s extremely important that those lines are delivered with heft. As an added bonus, she gains a new, much younger fan base. Seems like a no-brainer, really.

Hedlund is the wild card here. It feels like he’s channeling someone, but exactly whom he’s channeling is unclear. It’s as if he’s trying to play the part of Hook in a classic style, his delivery colorful but lacking a modern-day comedic sensibility. Wright, meanwhile, resists the urge to execute one of his trademark lengthy tracking shots, and considering the material, that is the smart play. However, it also means that his work looks like that of a director for hire, a role that Wright rarely, if ever, plays. It has some stylish moments – the mass abduction scene, for one – but it doesn’t scream Joe Wright’s name above anyone else’s.

It’s damning with faint praise, but “Pan” is the kind of movie that could have gone spectacularly wrong – think “The Lone Ranger” – but it works better than it has a right to. The script is just smart enough, the acting is just good enough, and the direction is splashy (watch for the gunpowder) but not gaudy. Think of it as the underachieving kid with boatloads of talent (which is a fair analogy, given the people concerned), who does just enough to get a B. They did fine, but an A was well within their grasp, which makes their B’s look more like C’s.


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