WRITTEN REVIEW – Pan (2015)
Directed by: Joe Wright
Written by: Jason Fuchs
Starring: Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund & Rooney Mara
Music: John Powell
Release Date: October 16th 2015
‘Pan‘ is a very odd beast in the realm of live-action fairytale re-imaginings, in that this is a property whose cultural ubiquity is mainly due to an animated Disney movie (‘Peter Pan‘ from 1953) whose latest version is NOT coming from Walt Disney Pictures, but rather Warner Bros. and RatPac-Dune Entertainment (who are behind the upcoming non-Disney ‘Jungle Book: Origins‘ movie slated for 2017). While the J.M Barrie character created in 1911 in the novel “Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” has hardly been a character exclusive to Disney with films such as ‘Hook‘ in 1991, ‘Peter Pan‘ in 2003 and even a J.M Barrie biopic with ‘Finding Neverland‘ in 2004, very few movies have been able to challenge Disney’s legacy regarding Peter Pan.
But a new challenger has entered the ring in easily the most ambitious adaptation to date. ‘Pan‘ boasts a $150M budget, a high-profile cast and even has critically acclaimed director of ‘Atonement‘, ‘Hanna‘ and ‘Anna Karenina‘ working in the big-budget, VFX-heavy arena for the first time. ‘Pan‘ has a lot to prove and there’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of Levi Miller who plays Peter Pan in his first big-screen role. But does this franchise prequel/reboot soar or should it be fed to the crocodiles?
Peter (Miller) was left on the doorstep of an orphanage as a baby with nothing but a letter from his mother and a small pan pendant around his neck. 12 years later, during World War 2 as bombs drop from the sky every night, something else is flying over London; a magical pirate ship, the crew of which steal Peter and other orphans in the middle of the night and take them to Neverland to mine for fairy-dust under the rule of the pirate king; Blackbeard (Jackman). But Pan finds an ally in James Hook (Hedlund) who helps him escape and join forces with the local natives led by Tiger Lily (Mara). The three must find the Fairy Kingdom to unlock the mystery to a prophecy revolving around a boy who can fly and lead an uprising against Blackbeard.
Doing a prequel to Peter Pan, in principal, is not that bad of an idea. But the issue with ‘Pan‘ is that none of the plot-elements, characters or even the visual touches feel remotely cohesive. ‘Pan‘ feels like 10 different movies of different genres and flavours playing at the same time and fighting for space in a muddled narrative that even by the standard of family-movies doesn’t make an awful lot of sense.
‘Pan‘ commits the cardinal sin of including a lazy, tacked-on “prophecy” plot-point which is incredibly specific. It tells of a boy who can fly and will lead an uprising against Blackbeard. Of course, there’s the cliché of Peter not believing he’s the boy in the prophecy including the “You’ve got the wrong boy” aspect of self-doubt which is so played out at this point in fiction and doesn’t have a shred of believability. But the main issue with this prophecy element is that not only does it only exist to motivate Peter to do what the plot requires him to (Peter would not do half the things he does in this movie if it wasn’t already pre-determined for him to do it) but the movie gives him no reason to doubt himself.
Early on, Peter starts a fight in the fairy-dust mines (which Blackbeard is harvesting to stay young forever) and is forced to walk the plank hundreds of feet in the air on a floating pirate ship. He falls off the plank and instead of winding up as a mess on the floor below, he floats in the sky and briefly flies. But about an hour later into the movie, Peter is baffled as to why everyone thinks that HE is the one the prophecy is referring to.
But Peter KNOWS he can fly and he knows he’s the only one in this world who can! Why does he doubt that the prophecy is about him!
And when James Hook teams up with Peter to escape the mines, James explains that he’s been planning this escape for years and years…despite his plan involving a flying boy that he only knew the existence of the day before the escape.
$150M budget and no one proof-read the script?!
Maybe those plot-holes were explained in the extensive material that must have been left on the cutting-room floor because ‘Pan‘ reeks of a movie that has been hacked to near-death in the editing room. ‘Pan‘ is in such a rush to get from one set-piece to another that there’s no breathing room to be found for any of the characters, resulting in a bare bones approach to their arcs. James Hook claims to be nothing more than a “liar” and a “crook” but he does nothing villainous in the movie. Imagine ‘Star Wars‘ if Han Solo never acted selfishly and was also a good-natured hero and you basically have James Hook in ‘Pan‘. He even has a deus ex machina moment in the climax of the movie like Han Solo. And then he has a romance with Tiger Lily which goes nowhere and despite the fact that he is the only person in this movie with the last name Hook (he also carries around a LITERAL hook as part of his mining equipment) there is nothing to indicate that he will one day become Peter Pan’s arch-nemesis.
Take away the name “Hook” and Garrett Hedlund’s character doesn’t change one iota and neither does the movie around him. The very end of the movie has Peter essentially say “We’ll be friends forever, right?” and Hook replies “Don’t be so sure” (or words to that effect) as a lazy, insufferable nod to the future of the franchise, but there’s no foundation for the character to be found.
But his character is not the only thing left on the cutting room floor. It’s established early on in the movie that the orphanage Peter is living in at the beginning is actually collaborating with the Pirates from Neverland and is giving them the children freely. But this plot-point is never brought up again and the Pirates just come in through the roof and steal the children anyway without any sort of assistance from the Nuns in charge, so what’s the point? And how did the nuns even get in contact with the Pirates in the first place to arrange this elaborate plan? It’s a plot-point with zero relevance yet it creates hundreds of plot-holes in its wake.
I also think that over the course of the 111 minute movie that there’s only one or two establishing shots. Each scene change feels so intrusive and abrupt that it indicates that there were major editing issues with ‘Pan‘. The movie was originally meant to come out in June but was delayed a MONTH before its release to October and the end result demonstrates why. I think Joe Wright wanted the movie to be much longer, slower-paced and more character driven because there really aren’t many action set-pieces in the movie. But maybe test-screenings didn’t go over so well and the film was delayed for a hasty, drastic re-edit. It would explain why most of the character growth happens off-screen and why the movie is in such a rush to get to the next scene, lest the children in the audience get bored.
Levi Miller does the best he can with a character who really isn’t that interesting due to ‘Pan‘ taking place long before Peter gained his confidence and proactive attitude. Miller is a strong young talent, but Peter is basically every rebellious child you’ve seen in every family movie of this ilk. Garrett Hedlund looks embarrassed to be here, putting on a really strange, out-of-place voice that makes him sound like Heath Ledger’s Joker from ‘The Dark Knight‘.
“You wanna know how I got this hook!?”
Rooney Mara feels very miscast as Tiger Lily, though not because of the rather shameful ethnicity change (with Lupita Nyong’o at one point being considered for the role, incidentally) but because it’s completely against type for an actor who, despite her obvious talent, simply doesn’t suit this type of role. Tiger Lily is essentially a female version of Captain Jack Sparrow and Rooney Mara’s style of performance is not compatible with that quirky, off-beat character.
But the actor who comes across the best is Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard. He’s clearly having the most fun out of everyone and his first appearance is bolstered by his entire pirate army singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana (which, while awesome, is another example of the film’s completely disjointed approach and feels so out of place). A lot of the depth as a character Blackbeard has is entirely down to Jackman’s performance as he gives Blackbeard the physicality of an older and weaker man when he’s alone (due to him using the fairy-dust to keep himself young) but putting on a bravado attitude when he’s in front of his men. Though another failing of the script is that there’s no reason why Blackbeard is considered to be so special. He doesn’t demonstrate any exceptional skills when compared to the other pirates, so exactly why he’s “The pirate all pirates fear” is left up in the air.
It all comes down to the fact that ‘Pan‘ feels like a movie that was originally meant to be character-driven with a few action-scenes thrown in, but it’s been hacked away during a hasty edit and forced to conform to modern blockbuster trends and pacing.
But even if Joe Wright’s original vision for the movie wound up shining through, it’s still an incoherent experience. None of the visual styles gel even remotely despite the kitchen sink approach to spectacle. There are flying pirate ships, steampunk technology, native American inspired iconography, a climax that takes place in a diamond cave as well as an opening sequence that’s ripped straight from a noir story. All of these styles are unique and are emulated well from a production stand-point, but when edited back-to-back with no time to transition and with no semblance of coherency than ‘Pan‘ comes across like a jumbled, visual mess.
There are so many different styles, so much CGI happening on screen and so many scenes of elaborate flying creatures, flying pirate ships engaged in dog-fighting with WW2 planes (no joke) and even a fight scene taking place entirely on a colourful trampoline, that when the grand finale arrives and Pan finally does fly…it doesn’t mean anything. Pan flying is the most underwhelming part of the movie because everything that came before it was so fantastical even though it’s THE moment everything in the movie has been building up to. It’s an astonishing misfire.
Speaking of misfire, the special effects are almost uniformly terrible. This is the first movie Joe Wright has directed with visual effects and it really does show. The green-screening is obvious, the creatures of Neverland have no semblance of weight or presence, there’s one decent sequence where Hook flies a ship upside down but the rest of the flying looks like a 2004 effect. When Peter starts flying towards the end of the movie, it genuinely looks like a character from ‘The Polar Express‘ has taken his place.
I was invited to the World Premier of ‘Pan‘ last month and Joe Wright as well as the cast members kept talking about how the set for Neverland was the biggest set ever built in the U.K. and how wonderful it was to film on a set that felt like another world. While I’m glad that the actors had fun inhabiting that world, the audience see NONE of it. The camera only focuses on around 10 square feet of Neverland and there isn’t a single moment where the audience can admire the set and feel immersed in this fairytale world (which makes the lack of establishing shots even more noticeable). If ‘Pan‘ did indeed have the biggest sets ever built in the U.K. for a movie, then it’s a damn shame that the audience only got to see around 20% of them.
Incidentally, there’s a baffling stylistic choice in that when a member of the native tribe is killed, they explode and turn into a giant colourful dusty explosion. It’s an unintentionally hilarious effect in what’s meant to be one of the most dramatic scenes in the movie. It genuinely is a “what the hell were they thinking?” aspect.
Also, if you’ve seen the trailers you’ve literally seen all there is of the giant crocodile and Cara Delevingne playing three mermaids. The music by John Powell is a production stand-out as there’s strong choral work and a mystical quality to the instrument choice. It’s an effective score, though it can only do so much to accentuate the questionable drama. The make-up work is great, particularly with the subtle ageing effects for Blackbeard and the costumes are colourful, vibrant, inventive and suit each character. Through the costumes alone you can easily distinguish from all the main characters from a distance.
Despite the prior 2000+ words of bashing, ‘Pan‘ is not the worst movie ever made. It’s just not a very good one. It’s harmless fluff that may distract kids with its bright colours and terrible special effects but due to the complete gutting of what could have been an interesting script and concept it will leave nothing for them to emotionally latch onto. ‘Pan‘ is clearly the end result of a director and studio conflicting with each other and Hugh Jackman is really the only actor who comes across well in the entire cast. And the movie is so structurally, visually and thematically incoherent and at odds with itself that when Peter finally does fulfil his destiny and fly, it’s ultimately meaningless with clashing aesthetic choices that, while unique on their own, simply don’t work when haphazardly thrown into a movie like this. I would ask for a director’s cut, but I feel like everyone involved could literally do anything else better with their time.
I give ‘Pan‘ 1 and a half stars out of 5.
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Posted: 5th Oct 15