Pan Review - That's Enough, Blockbuster Cinema Needs To Grow Up

A return to Neverland? Nevermind.

Rating: ˜…˜… Out of all the films in the recent epidemic of live-action adaptations of Disney animated classics, Pan was the "reimagining" (of whatever description we've cycled onto) that held the most promise. Not only is the J. M. Barrie source so whimsically imaginative that it's ripe for reinterpretation, but Joe Wright's film has been produced by Warner Bros., so unlike Alice In Wondefland, Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Beauty And The Beast et al there wasn't going to be the same slavish brand management working just beneath the surface and instead we'd get a piece driven by a singular vision. Or so you'd think. In reality Pan is a jumble of half-heartedly realised, corporately-mandated ideas that show Hollywood at its worst. For starters, in a bid to ride a wave of perceived popularity, the film inexplicably posits itself as a pseudo-prequel to Disney's Peter Pan (rather than a Batman Begins-style restart), with the story of Peter Pan first travelling to Neverland transplanted to World War II to allow just enough time for things to develop ahead of the events of the 1953 film. It's an odd idea that barely makes sense - I'd always assumed the Darling children were from Victorian London, and how does such a time jump allow their mother to have met Peter Pan - although that's only the start of the problems. You see, in being a prequel Pan also shifts the meaning behind the mythology. Peter Pan is, originally, about a fear of growing up, but that's replaced here with destiny, doing your duty and the morals of every prophecy-driven movie from the past ten years. Yes, that's right - like Darth Vader, Harry Potter and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (I don't really care about the latter, but it's still an irritation) before him, it's now Peter Pan's turn to be the "chosen one". Why? Easier to write a screenplay where the hero becomes the hero because he's repeatedly told he's going to be the hero. Hero. Urgh.
Then there's the part of Pan that's trying to be the basis for a new action-fantasy franchise in the vein of Harry Potter; a pre-teen is dropped into a fantastical world with vaguely-fantastical sensibilities and there's an overwhelming leaning on a Sense Of Wonder„. It all but begs to be called a "visual treat", but while some of it does look good (that'll be Wright's talent shining through the studio's sanitisation), like any poorly written, lazily acted film that's not enough. Especially when the CGI is so unrefined and shiny (particularly with some giant birds who are mostly skeletons likely to save time on animating feathers) that outside of a couple of shots the film feels like a never-ending video-game cutscene. This chasing of Potter and Wonderland may be the film's most subtly awful element; there's an unearned desire for more. We meet James Hook, future croc-fearing nemesis to Peter who is here his best chum, but there's nary an attempt to progress him towards his moustache-frazzled future. Instead we get repeated moments of hack-job foreshadowing begging for a sequel, right up until the very final moments, but, like every other sequel-hungry first-parter, the film forgets to be interesting enough to warrant one. Pan tries to be so many things, all of them intrinsically against what Peter Pan really should be, that it winds up a muddle you almost feel embarrassed watching. The real world we open in is a caricature of period London - all "aw'right guv'nor" accents (I'm sure Levi Miller is a fine child actor, but he's constantly irritating as Pay-ter) and Oliver Twist orphanages - while Neverland is a series of bright, echoey sound stages with "weirdness" taken as style. The most misjudged element has to be the villain; Hugh Jackman hams it up ridiculously as Blackbeard (who, I sh*t you not, is introduced to a cover of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit chanted by his Temple Of Doom-esque child slaves) and even gets a "he's behind you moment".
It's a pantomime. And not the good kind where you can unironically enjoy some campy theatrics, but a halfhearted run through of whatever classic tale was to hand during the writing process starring actors who either should know better but need the paycheck or are up-and-comers happy for the chance running about clearly fake sets. I've no idea what exactly Pan was trying to be, but, holy pudding, it's as far away from it as possible. Before I wrap up, it's worth weighing in on a key point of contention that might be distracting a bit from the bigger picture. Much has been made of the casting of white Rooney Mara as native chieftess Tiger Lily. It actually makes some sense in the film, with Neverland removed from reality and the tribe a purposely multicultural gang, so, a shaky accent (British - we're not in The Lone Ranger territory) aside it doesn't matter too much. Where the character's presentation (and, it turns out, casting) is offensive is in her reworking as a love interest - Tiger Lily may be able to tackle Blackbeard in a fight, but in between those moments it's all simpering glances, wobbly knees and getting all aflutter at advances from Hook. Pan is everything wrong with the current approach to blockbuster filmmaking. I mean, why are we even making a live-action Peter Pan in 2015? I hazard it's because he represents a world where things don't change, and childlike idealism lives forever, something that oh-so embodies Hollywood's current model. Well, I'm sorry, but it's time to grow up.
Pan is in US cinemas now and in UK cinemas from 16th October.

Film Editor (2014-2016). Loves The Usual Suspects. Hates Transformers 2. Everything else lies somewhere in the middle. Once met the Chuckle Brothers.