Were one to take both Pan and Oz: The Great and Powerful as case studies of skillful directors attempting to adapt iconic source material, they would be forced to reason that this just ain’t a venture worth taking. The same exact sentiment can be said of Pan the film. Joe Wright (Hanna, Pride and Prejudice), working from a Jason Fuchs (Ice Age: Continental Drift) script, has drained the prestige from his presence in attempting to tell a for-all-ages tale of the flying boy with a sentient shadow who never ages. Rather, he delivers a schizophrenic, incredibly frustrating family-friendly adventure with staggering highs and lows. Had Pan just been bad – rather than offering the odd moments of true clarity and borderline brilliance – the inevitable disappointment wouldn’t sting quite as much. As it, it’s a monstrous failure with absolutely out-of-place moments of undeniable inspiration.
Boarding the origin train without a lick of shame, Pan rewinds time to before the Darlings to tell the saga of how Peter Pan found his way to Neverland, met Hook and learned to fly. We meet Peter in an orphanage in the midst of WWII, with all the drab color schemes and chaste set pieces that come with such a time period and place. He spars with plump nuns, alleging that these women of the cloth are selling off orphans to make some spare change. Long story short: the disappearing orphans have actually been being captured by flying pirate ships, CGI monstrosities that glide on thermals like bulky condors. Peter is hastily among the captured and soon absconded beyond the folds of our reality, told that someone high up the food chain wants very much to speak with him. This last bit is never again addressed though.When Peter Pan arrives in Neverland for the first time, he is confronted by a psychobilin dreamscape: bright primary colors punch every inch of the screen, a pirate king dressed to the 9’s, Blackbeard (an often delightful Hugh Jackman) jolts fabulously across the screen (as if – like the pirate ships he commands – he is not restrained by the powers of gravity) , the occupants of this dirty, magical other-world collectively flash-mob, joining in a chorus of, “Here we are now, entertain us.” You cock your head, “Are they singing Nirvana?” Yes, indeed they are. Later they together chant The Clash’s “Blitzkrieg Bop.” For just a moment, this postmodern kitchen-sinking seems oh-so-promising. But nirvana is achieved for but a moment before the rug is pulled out from under us and we’re heaved into a cyclone of shite.
Pan buckles under the pressure to jam lazily-crafted CGI-heavy set pieces into its clunky, cliche “chosen one” narrative. The grand picture gets convoluted faster than you can say “Second star to the right and straight on till morning.” And no matter how reputable a filmmaker Joe Wright is, you see his signature smeared from the page 30 minutes in, making way for a certifiable orgy of poorly-rendered Disney eye candy that’s just as likely to give you a tummy ache as Pop Rocks and Coke.Among Pan’s biggest issues is the casting. The performances, to put it lightly, are problematic. Though Hugh Jackman is easily the most successful of the bunch playing a larger-than-life villain with a scenery-chewing theatrical side, his compatriots fare much worse than he. Garrett Hedlund, whose Rotten Tomato page is greener than the Grinch, plays the famed Captain Hook (here, a younger, more neutral version of the later-villain) like a cowboy with blue balls. He’s always eager to either leave somewhere or dry-hump someone. Most of the time, that someone is the inexplicably white Tiger Lily (more on her later).
Levi Miller as the eponymous Pan is regularly fine, though he seems more a stage actor than a screen one. His over-the-top sensibilities make this a child’s performance that, well, is definitely coming from a child. But by far and away the worse of the bunch however is Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily. The fact that Tiger Lily is as white as a lily (although the rest of her tribe is as aboriginal as they come) aside, Mara phones it in harder than Adam Sandler on a sweatpants day. She sucks the air right out of the room. You can almost taste her own distain for Tiger Lily’s poorly written dialogue and it quashes the magic before its ever had a chance to take hold.
Parts of the second act – especially those that really lean on the computer generated action beats – are disheartening but everything goes to pieces in a senseless, visually dull third act that will make you want to up and leave the theater. Every time there is potential for something great, it is snuffed like a candle in the wind. When Peter finally encounters Tinkerbell, gone is the whimsy and nostalgia, replaced by a chilling attempt to shoehorn in the iconography of the series that we once loved. What’s worse, we must experience the rollercoaster ride that is Pan with all its clunky, uninspired, near-abominable material sat right alongside the stuff that could have been brilliant.
CONCLUSION: ‘Pan’ manages to hit more highs and lows than most films (family-friendly or otherwise) but is ultimately ravaged by its narrative senselessness and visual apathy. Though Hugh Jackman has fun playing Blackbeard, the rest of the cast (particularly Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily) fails to bring any magic to the table.