Mark Reviews Movies

Pan

PAN

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Joe Wright

Cast: Levi Miller, Garrett Hedlund, Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara, Adeel Akhtar, Nonso Anozie, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Burke, Lewis MacDougall

MPAA Rating: PG (for fantasy action violence, language and some thematic material)

Running Time: 1:51

Release Date: 10/9/15


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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 8, 2015

There's a tendency to rebel against the mucking with of our beloved stories, and sometimes that rebellion means we intentionally or inadvertently put on blinders to the stories that do try to play with the established ones. It's unfair, of course, because those cherished stories belong as much to the storytellers doing the playing as they do to the rest of us. There's a reason the filmmakers behind Pan wanted to explore the origin of "the boy who wouldn't grow up," and we should give them the benefit of ignoring our little rebellion of the mind, which would rather see things stay the same out of a sense of nostalgia. We should, but Pan makes it pretty difficult to do so.

Peter Pan only flies a few times. Captain Hook doesn't have a hook. The Lost Boys are either slave laborers or just regular old orphans in London, and the fate of Neverland is tied to one of those convenient prophecies that foretell of a great hero who will vanquish an evil foe.

The screenplay by Jason Fuchs is an origin story, so the general thrusts of those first three details aren't necessarily detriments. Peter has to learn to fly or, at least, figure out how to unleash the innate ability he already possesses. Hook, as we know from J.M. Barrie's original tellings of the story, only gets the hook after a duel with Peter, so it only makes sense that he would have both hands when he first meets the boy—and would keep them as long as there's no reason for the two characters to fight. The Lost Boys of Neverland had to come from somewhere. Why shouldn't that place be an orphanage in London during the bombings of World War II, when a corrupt nun can use the routine evacuation of children as a cover for their abduction by pirates from Neverland?

Of course, this is all in defense of the broad foundation of what the movie presents to us. We still have to get into the how of the storytelling, and that part of it is why the movie keeps the fires of our mental rebellion lit.

Here, Peter (Levi Miller) is an orphan, whose mother (Amanda Seyfried) left him at the front door of an orphanage as a baby. He grows up believing that she will come back for him some day, and then the pirates, rappelling through the ceiling and slinging back to their ship in an acrobatic display, show up in the night to nab as many kids as they can.

After a brief interruption by a dogfight with British fighter planes, Peter's trip to Neverland aboard the flying pirate ship is a surreal experience—floating through solar system and reaching out to touch a shrunken Saturn, before the ship maneuvers through a series of bubbles water possessing fish and a crocodile. It's one of the few moments of real, mysterious magic that we get here.

Everything that follows is oddly literal. There's the villain, the infamous pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) who, with his black ruffles, looks more like a Gothic fop than a considerable threat (His crew's shanties, which are songs by Nirvana and the Ramones, are anachronistic diversions for their own sake). He is kidnapping the orphans to mine fairy dust in the mountains of Neverland, in order for him to remain young and immortal.

After Peter evades a plank-walking death by taking flight, Blackbeard reveals the familiar prophecy of a boy with special powers and of noble birth ending his reign. Peter escapes with a cowboy-like Hook (Garrett Hedlund), who has been in Blackbeard's captivity for a long time, and Sam "Smee" Smiegel (Adeel Akhtar), the dastardly pirate's right-hand man. They must find the natives of Neverland (Depending on one's perspective, the movie either sidesteps or intensifies cultural stereotypes by making these natives an amalgamation of various cultural influences), and with the help of Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), the group will uncover the truth of Peter's origins and return the surviving fairies to their rightful place.

It's obvious that great pains have been taken to create the world of Neverland—from the treacherous mountains and floating mechanisms of the pirates' hideout, to the lush forests where the natives have made their home, to the crystalline, computer-generated realm of the fairies, where we get a noisy, confused climactic battle. The movie belongs to a "design first, expand later" school of filmmaking, although the screenplay and director Joe Wright never get around to the "expand" part. It has a designed-by-multiple-committees feel, which makes sense in a world without rules. There's a certain cohesion to the disorder of how every new location is radically different from the previous and the next one.

The movie's generic plot and characters, though, are entirely in the service of its design elements. Pan, like its depiction of the eponymous character, remains grounded for the most part—its occasional flights of inspiration barely registering amidst the overwhelming feeling of routine.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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