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Pan Movie Review

Pan (2015) movie poster Pan

Theatrical Release: October 9, 2015 / Running Time: 111 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Joe Wright / Writers: Jason Fuchs (screenplay), J.M. Barrie (characters)

Cast: Hugh Jackman (Blackbeard), Garrett Hedlund (James Hook), Rooney Mara (Tiger Lily), Levi Miller (Peter), Amanda Seyfried (Mary), Adeel Akhtar (Sam "Smee" Smiegel), Taejoo Na (Kwahu), Nonso Alonzie (Bishop), Kathy Burke (Mother Barnabas), Kurt Egyiawan (Murray), Lewis MacDougall (Nibs), Jack Charles (The Chief)


People keep wanting to revisit and retool J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan.
This young century alone has seen Finding Neverland dramatizing the play's creation, no fewer than nine stage adaptations, NBC's live television special, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's Starcatchers series of bestselling prequel novels, the major 2003 filming, and the Syfy miniseries Neverland. And that's not even touching on Disney, the company most identified with Barrie's tale for their 1953 animated classic, which has in recent years spawned a theatrical sequel, a Disney Junior television series, and the loosely related Disney Fairies franchise starring a vocal Tinker Bell and her sassy fairy friends. Now, determined to outdo all of that is Pan, a big budget 3D family adventure that arrives in theaters right between Hollywood's two busy seasons.

In "Pan", Peter (Levi Miller) and his fellow orphans are whisked onto the flying ship of Blackbeard and his pirates.

Pan is an original origin story that looks to put its own stamp on Barrie's characters and enduring fantasy tale. Opening narration claims we must go back to the beginning to a time when enemies once were friends. In this version, Peter Pan is not played by a diminutive woman, a middle-aged comedian, or even an adolescent, but by Levi Miller, an Australian who just turned 13 and looks significantly younger in this 2014 shoot. As an infant, Peter is dropped off by a loving mother (a brief and barely identifiable Amanda Seyfried) at a boys' orphanage in London. There during World War II (for some reason), he is mistreated, underfed, and worked hard by a pack of sadistic nuns.

Fortunately for the boys, one night, a flying pirate ship comes and whisks them away. Unfortunately for them, their new home makes the orphanage look relaxing. Peter joins hordes of young males assigned to dig for Pixum (fairy dust) in mines. This Never Land resembles the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Mad Max, although there is more pageantry to it, as the pirate in command,
one felt-wigged baggy-eyed Blackbeard (a barely recognizable Hugh Jackman) leads his young slaves in spirited sing-alongs of Nirvana and The Ramones. Despite his musicality, Blackbeard is a bad man and one who swiftly sentences Peter to die when he truthfully claims someone else is taking credit for a bit of Pixum he discovered.

Peter's life is saved when his plank walk ends not in death but in a display of flight. He uses this heretofore unknown gift to bust out of his cell with help from one James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), a cynical hero in waiting with an escape plan. Much more plot unfolds. Peter may or may not be the messiah to Never Land's natives foretold in ancient prophecy. At the very least, he'll get his chance to find out, when Princess Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) approves a plan to test his flying abilities in three days. Of course, the test is forgotten when the wicked Blackbeard and his angry pirates show up looking for Peter.

Hugh Jackman undergoes a dramatic makeover to play Blackbeard, a feared pirate kept young by Pixum.

Noisy and short on charm, Pan does nothing to enhance or comment upon the universe of Barrie, who is given credit for introducing these characters. The grim opening puts you off and only gives way to more dirty, grating scenery and obnoxious conflict. Peter is driven by a quest to find his mother, a generic hero's mission that we know will not end as he hopes. That tiny thread of relatable humanity is not enough to keep us engaged in this adventure or buying into the derivative whimsy.

It's often clear that a lot of money has been sunk into this production (reportedly $150 million before marketing), but we never understand why. There is very little that compels us about this vision that is chiefly attributed to screenwriter Jason Fuchs (a contributor to Ice Age: Continental Drift) and director Joe Wright, a Brit who comes to this project having primarily made costume dramas like Atonement, 2012's Anna Karenina, and 2005's Pride & Prejudice. Wright has never before steered such a big budget undertaking and his performance here makes you question whether he ever should again.

The cast that sounds at least interesting on paper also fails to pay dividends. Clearly modeling his performance after Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones, Hedlund seems no more destined for the star status that he's flirted with since TRON: Legacy. Mara, trying to unearth a lighter side she's previously hidden, does not look very at ease in this midriff-baring, eyeshadow-heavy part, even ignoring the concerns over her evidently colorblind casting. In the casually dyslexic title role, Miller does not really stand out, good or bad, an acceptable outcome for any widespread child casting search. Despite his top billing and prominent placement in marketing, Jackman has a relatively small and uncomplicated role it was hardly worth going bald and goateed several months for. Though Jackman has his fans and followers, it seems like Mackenzie Crook of the Pirates of the Caribbean series and the UK's "The Office" could have played Blackbeard with less dramatic make-up.

By channeling Harrison Ford, Garrett Hedlund as the heroic James Hook shows us he's ready to play Indiana Jones... in Disney World's Stunt Spectacular.

Pan, whose title will likely read as an appropriate invitation to critics, does not have an obvious audience to appeal to. Revisionist fairy tales like Maleficent and Snow White and the Huntsman have done well at the box office, but this movie lacks the purpose of even those mediocre works as it attempts to plug aspects of Barrie's world into tired formulas like chases, journeys, and action-packed set pieces. An encounter with "Never Birds", giant skeletal birds mentioned in Barrie's text but rarely touched since, seems like an obligatory foray into visual effects.
The 3D photography adds little discernible value, even when the movie is utilizing it to swoop up to rooftops and float past clouds. By the time the action climax arrives and essentially puts an end to dialogue, you are quite ready to be done and to quickly acquire aspirin for the headache the dizzying visuals and mind-numbing soundtrack have brought on.

Pan does not even impress enough on a technical level to overlook its giant narrative faults. The Academy has been willing to overlook such faults when nominating films for below-the-line categories, but there's just too much wrong here to notice any right.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: The Walk The Martian Everest The Intern
Peter Pan Return to Never Land Finding Neverland Jake and the Never Land Pirates Tinker Bell
Maleficent Cinderella (2015) Alice in Wonderland (2010) Mirror Mirror Oz the Great and Powerful
Once Upon a Time: The Complete First Season Where the Wild Things Are Paddington
Hugh Jackman: Real Steel Rise of the Guardians | Garrett Hedlund: Tron: Legacy

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Reviewed October 9, 2015.

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