Let’s get this out of the way right up front: Baz Luhrmann can get away with an anachronistic, choral rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Joe Wright cannot. Nor “Blitzkrieg Bop”. In a movie full of cringe-inducing moments, those two were particular low points.
The script for Pan — by writer Jason Fuchs, whose only other feature was also an insulting mess — was pulled from the Black List of unproduced screenplays, establishing that sometimes they’re there for good reasons. The only thing that saves Pan from utter trash-fire status is that it got picked up by a fantastically visual director like Wright.
This version serves as an origin story for Peter Pan, because even century-old properties with many adaptations already among the most famous and treasured children’s movies needs an origin story. The opening narration tries to defend this point, saying “you can’t understand the end of a story until you know the beginning”. And while that was true in the case of Maleficent and could have been for Cinderella, it only works if you actually do something interesting with the story. Pan is merely another adventure that takes place before the original one, and even the biggest inversion it attempts goes nowhere.
Peter (Levi Miller) lives in an orphanage in London under the Blitz. This, despite the original story being from Edwardian Britain, so something like a Dickensian workhouse would probably fit better. No matter; soon enough he is snatched up by a flying pirate ship which dodges RAF fighters — ah yes, that explains the choice of period — and transports itself to Neverland. Peter and his fellow orphans are pressed into mining service for the evil Captain Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman).
There is no reason for this villain not to be Hook, except that Fuchs wants to make James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and Sam “Smee” Smiegel (Adeel Akhtar) into sympathetic figures. You might expect this to lead up to a dramatic inversion, where Pan and Hook start as friends and end as enemies after Blackbeard falls — the opening narration all but promises that much — but if that’s the plan then the filmmakers must be expecting to make a Pan II in short order. A frightening prospect.
Blackbeard is mining for crystalline fairy dust — “pixum”, I suppose in analogy to gypsum — which for some reason has a rejuvenating effect on him rather than imbuing the power of flight. At the same time he’s clashing with the island’s natives: a mashup of American, African, and Australian aboriginal stereotypes, led by the warrior princess Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara). They are waiting for a savior who will come and lead them to victory against the pirates, and obviously this is Peter, though he must prove it to them by flying. And yes, this is Avatar all over again, though one key turn is ripped off wholesale from Star Wars.
But, like I said, it is an extremely pretty movie. The reveals of Peter’s back-story are broken in half so we get not one but two imaginative flashbacks, one in the rippling wood of a tree stump and the other in the bubbles of mermaid lagoon. Oh, speaking of which, Cara Delevingne lends her face — but not any actual acting — to the mermaids. I mean, it’s not like we need more than one actual female character around, right?
The world is very, very pretty, but that can’t save a misconceived story. There’s lots of exposition, but little real emotion, and the actiony “good parts” are few and far between. Yet again, Fuchs seems to want to fall back on the old excuse that it doesn’t have to be any good; it’s just a kids’ movie. And again, I offer this advice: demand better.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.