By Steve Herte
Pan (WB, 2015) – Director: Joe Wright. Writers: Jason Fuchs (s/p), J.M. Barrie (characters). Stars: Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, Adeel Akhtar, Nonso Anozie, Kathy Burke, Jack Charles, Amanda Seyfried, Lewis MacDougall, & Brian Bovell. Color, Rated PG, 111 minutes.
Prequels come and prequels go and this one was in and out of the major theaters before I could waste money on it. I’ve heard those who love Peter Pan stories, would love this one, but the box office said otherwise.
Peter (Miller) lives in an orphanage in London run by nuns during World War II. When the bacon goes missing from their morning gruel he suspects Mother Barnabas (Burke) of hoarding supplies and proves it during an air raid. But Mother Barnabas is up to something else. Peter notices boys are going missing and we see Mother Barnabas raising a Jolly Roger over the orphanage. A flying pirate ship drops crewmen on ropes who snatch up the boys, including Peter, and sail off for Neverland. There’s a strange dogfight between the ship and English planes until the ship rises straight up … to outer space! Seriously? Peter goes weightless and, thank goodness, his ankle is wrapped with a rope. The fact that air is non-existent at that altitude is irrelevant, I guess. A true fantasy.
At Neverland, the new arrivals are greeted by a cast of thousands working in an open pit mine and singing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I don’t get the relevance of the song. Blackbeard the Pirate (Jackman) makes his flamboyant, over-the-top entrance on the last verse and cites the rules; work hard or walk the plank. They’re mining Pixin, a new word for Pixie Dust, a substance that Blackbeard inhales to stay young. Frankly, it doesn’t work on his hair growth. He’s still bald and wears an outrageous slicked-back wig.
In the mines, Peter meets James Hook (Hedlund) who’s been there all his life. Hook devises a plan to escape the mines with the help of Sam “Smee” Smiegal (Akhtar). Hook wants to go “home” and Peter wants to locate the “native village” to get help finding the Fairy Forest where he believes his mother is.
Peter’s mother gave him a pendant in the shape of a Pan pipe and there is a legend in Neverland that a boy would come wearing the “Pan” who could fly. This boy is destined to defeat Blackbeard; a fact Blackbeard knows as well. He follows Peter with a fleet of ships.
In the native village, things don’t look too good for our heroes. Peter and Smee are tied to stakes and Hook is suspended upside down and has to fight the best fighter in the tribe. Tiger Lily (Mara) watches next to the Chief (Charles). Their costume is as far from any recognizable “tribe” as possible to keep the film politically correct. When they see the “Pan” on Peter the entire tribe kneels – predictable. Tiger Lily lies to Peter about his mother still being alive and gives him the hope he needs to bring the movie to an end.
You can guess the rest. Though Peter denies that he can fly, he eventually does and leads the armies of fairies against Blackbeard and retrieves the rest of the “lost boys” from the orphanage.
You have to check science at the theater door as well as any remembrance of the original story of Peter Pan. Hugh Jackman should stick to being Wolverine. Levi Miller is good, but his accent is thick and sometimes incomprehensible. That and the baffling misuse of music (The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” is sung when three boys are walking the plank), added to the vast, incredible distances everyone who falls experiences (right out of a Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoon) result in a mish-mash special effects romp. I’m glad I caught it on a free HBO preview and didn’t fork out real money.