Nutshell: Much more of a madcap good time than the source material, even if the plot is scattershot and at times unintelligible. But if you’re a lover of gorgeous CGI who cares? Bring forth the flying pirate ships and amazing technicolor natives! Grade: B-
Peter Pan had to come from somewhere. Ever wonder where? In Pan, director Joe Wright (Atonement, 2005’s Pride & Prejudice) and screenwriter Jason Fuchs (Ice Age: Continental Drift, the upcoming Wonder Woman) unpack Peter’s backstory. And all apologies to author J.M. Barrie, but Pan is a whole lot more fun than Peter Pan ever was. Maybe because I’ve always been more Oz than Neverland. Maybe because this origin story zips through the plot to get from one amazing setup to the next.
Pan is a gloriously over-the-top action adventure romp that zooms through its story, striving to top itself with each subsequent scene. You’ll probably be too busy absorbing all the flashy to realize the plot is bouncing around like a fairy on acid. You may not understand most of it, but you won’t be bored.
There’s a gorgeous world of adventure here, and it’s absolutely stunning. I can see Peter’s fascination with Neverland, and his backstory — hoping to find his mother in this new place — made it easier to understand his dedication to the people (and fairies) in it. Fuchs also fleshes out the boy, and the myths surrounding him. Peter can’t read? Well, he’s dyslexic. Tiger Lily doesn’t trust people outside her tribe? Well, they’re protecting something extremely valuable. Smee’s dedication to Hook? Well, Smee’s simply a toady looking to side with whomever will save his bacon. And Hook? I’ll get to that in a bit.
I’m absolutely in love with Tiger Lily’s tribe in this film. It could be simply because the set design and costuming for these scenes are amazing and I want it all in my house immediately. I’ve fallen in love with sets for less. The natives in Pan look like the latest Colors of Benetton ad, and their village looks like Ewok treehouses kitted up for Diwali by Nepalese nomads. Of course I loved every single thing about them.
Wright has said that he couldn’t choose which particular group of native/aboriginal folks to use, so he decided to go with a melting pot. And as kumbaya as that sounds, it works. In making a tribe of many, Wright forces viewers to see the whole, the tribe itself, rather than simply picking up on the color of their skin. This is a tribe that has fought against Blackbeard and his “progress”, and whether or not Tiger Lily is Native American is beside the point, when Neverland is a great floating island in the sky. Anyway, aren’t these natives really Native Neverlandians? Why stick with worn out “Injun” stereotypes over a hundred years old?
But Aline Bonetto’s production design, Dominic Capon’s set decoration and Jacqueline Durran’s costuming are more than these treetop scenes. There are flying fish that zoom through the sky in huge schools. Huge floating bubbles of water with fish — and crocodiles — swimming within. Fairy tribes who swarm like bees and look like the Milky Way. But the scenes outside Neverland are just as detailed. Peter’s time in the orphanage is a black, grey and blue fever dream of despair and dust. When Blackbeard’s ships take Peter and the other boys away, they bounce in and out of the building from ropes, straight through the ceiling. I flashed back to The Adventures of Baron Munchausen‘s underwear balloon, though with a darker bent. And less underwear. That’s a good thing. Y’know, the echo of Munchausen. Whether or not the lack of underwear is a good thing, I’ll leave up to you. No judgement here y’all.
The performances are good, but with all that eye-candy CGI and set frippery it’s tough to see beyond the shiny. Levi Miller is excellent as Peter; he’s got a not-quite-kid-not-quite-tween look, and injects just the right amount of precocious bravado into the role. Rooney Mara acquits herself amicably as Tiger Lily, and that’s really all I can say about a character that isn’t given much to work with than being 2nd Mate in Peter’s posse. And if you’ve seen the trailer, you know that Hugh Jackman is the Ham Du Jour of the film, and he’s lovin’ every minute of it.
Okay, to Hook. Garrett Hedlund (Unbroken) plays him as a mix of Indiana Jones and Han Solo; hey, riffing of Harrison Ford is never a bad thing. But Hook’s backstory isn’t fleshed out, and the film ends on an obviously unfinished note, with more than a hint at a sequel. As Hook was the character that really stood out in this zampowie fireworks glitterbomb explosion of a film, I’d have liked to have gotten to know more about him. Leaving things with him unfinished left me feeling as if I was still on the hook. As it were.
So there you have it. Go for the CGI, or stay away from the wobbly plot. Decision’s up to you. Tick-tock.
Psst: trying to place where you’ve heard that miners-chant before? That’d be Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” early in the film, and “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones later on. Strange, but I’m assuming it’s Wright’s attempt at counter-culture hipness. Not sure it works.