"Welcome to Neverland!"The story of Peter Pan has been retold on screen more than one might think. You do of course have the classic Disney version, then Steven Spielberg’s ‘Hook’, then there’s the 2003 version then there was the mini-series ‘Neverland’ a couple of years ago and the biopic about the original author J M Barrie with ‘Finding Neverland’ that examined the psychology of the author and character he created. So the key question by this point is not whether ‘Pan’ is any good, the first question should be, can it bring anything new to the table?
Orphan Peter (Levi Miller) is kidnapped and transported to Neverland, where he must save the magical land from tyrannical pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) by teaming up with fellow captive James Hook (Garret Hedlund).
I heard a lot of people making jokes about ‘Pan’ being ‘the inevitable dark and gritty reboot of Peter Pan’. But on the contrary it retains a strong sense of playfulness and a somewhat entertaining nature to it as far as simple whimsy and wonder goes. The problem is that too often that wonder starts to verge on, and then plummets into, a chasm of ridiculousness. For example, as Peter is whisked away by pirates, the ship finds itself in the middle of the Battle of Britain and must defend itself against fighter planes before departing. Then another frankly baffling moment comes when captured prisoners break out into a chorus of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, is that supposed to be comical, whimsical, dramatic? I honestly do not know apart from utterly absurd.
I think this is where ‘Pan’ finds most of its faults. It is not a kid friendly fantasy film, it is just a kids movie. It never uses any skill to reach beyond that and appeal to anyone other than children, it never attempts to transcend its target audience and is stuck on a trajectory of juvenile stylistics. At the same time the flamboyance and eccentricity of it often seem half hearted, as if everyone involved was waiting to make something much more serious and had to endure the inaner scenes first.
With a budget of $50 Million one would expect that even the most tiresome acting and ludicrous plot can be redeemed slightly with some impressive set pieces and visuals. But even the design and style of the movie feel more like an elaborate stage production than anything else, I never feel as if I am in Neverland, or if it is a fully realised world, I just feel as if I am looking at a few strange props and never get a taste of a larger and more detailed world around them.
Nor was I given a reason to like any of the people that populated that very small and limited world. Most of the actors are credible in their roles but the roles in question are so bland and uninteresting that I simply do not care. Levi Miller is fine as a reluctant boy searching for his mother, but the writing never allows any real emotions to permeate the character. What are Peter’s fears, his aspirations, his motivations? I do not know. Then you have Rooney Mara, who was controversially cast as Tiger Lilly and I can’t say it was based on performance rather than ethnicity. Mara is fine, but far from outstanding, but once again it would take more than great acting to make the character here seem interesting. Then there is Hedlund as Hook, I can only describe his performance and character as when your friend gets drunk at a party, puts on a hat (that isn’t quite a fedora but is sort of similar) and tries to do an Indiana Jones impression. Hugh Jackman is good but only by fully committing to his role as an insane pirate, if it were not for his passion and flamboyance it would be a very different story.
Oh yeah, and as well as all of that, there’s a prophecy involving a chosen one.
To answer the first question, ‘Pan’ brings very little that is new to the table. To answer the second question of is it any good? No.