This prequel/origin story inspired by the beloved characters created by J.M Barrie and directed with the predicted visual flair by Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna) is a completely batty and rather fun holiday fantasy adventure with enough pure magic buried beneath its stock central arc, dark themes, and questionable casting to remain immersive. I am not sure what the youngsters will make of all this often-hyperactive, high-flying pirates vs. fairies prophet-fulfilling escapade, but it is certainly an unusual and transportive journey. Often catching me unawares with its obscure pop references – Hugh Jackman’s scene-stealing Blackbeard is introduced with a ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ mass chant (?) – this gleefully derivative venture presents a version of how a young orphan discovered his true destiny in Neverland and became the hero forever known as Peter Pan.
Living a bleak existence at a London orphanage, the rebellious and mischievous 12-year-old Peter (Levi Miller) finds himself whisked away by pirates to the fantastical world of Neverland, where he is put to work as a miner alongside rigged but earnest long-time resident James Hook (Garrett Hedlund). When he eludes punishment via unexpected abilities, he learns that he might he might possess the key to overthrowing the Pirate regime led by Blackbeard and the whereabouts of his mother. Peter, Hook and warrior princess Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) band together to save Neverland from the ruthless reign.
Pan is visually interesting – the steam-punk inspired design of the various locations, spectacular set pieces and extravagant costumes are full of pleasures – and driven by an exceptional score from John Powell (How to Train Your Dragon). It also features a number of wild over-the-top performances that fit snugly into the film’s clowning-around sort of tone. Hedlund is especially ridiculous, and clearly not suited to the direction. Jackman appears to have a ball, and Rooney Mara lends her class to an underdeveloped character.
Much to my surprise I was on board with Pan throughout, even through the patches of sloppy visual effects. Comparisons to the Wachowski’s narratively unwieldy space-opera Jupiter Ascending from earlier in the year are understandable. I found this much more coherent though, and by taking the chances that it does, distinguished.
By Andrew Buckle
Director: Joe Wright
Writer(s): Jason Fuchs (screenplay)
Starring: Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garret Hedlund, Rooney Mara
Runtime: 111 minutes
Release date(s): Australia and New Zealand: September 24, 2015