‘Pan’ Review

PAN (4 out of 10) Directed by Joe Wright; Written by Jason Fuchs, based on characters created by J.M. Barrie; Starring Levi MillerHugh JackmanGarrett HedlundRooney MaraAdeel Akhtar; Rated PG for “fantasy action violence, language and some thematic material”; Running time 111 min; In wide release Oct 9.

Given the deep well of Peter Pan mythology, you’d think a prequel would be effortlessly fun and entertaining, especially if you’ve got Hugh Jackman as your lead villain, right? Sigh. 

“Pan,” instead, delivers such a mishmash of styles that it just doesn’t know where it’s going — a rarity for a prequel whose sole purpose is normally to set up the pieces for the story we know. This fails to even do that, and fails to get interesting until the last few minutes.

To put this in other terms, if “Pan” is the origin story for Peter Pan, it’s the worst idea ever to wait until the last five minutes to impart him with his super powers and purpose. If that’s a spoiler, I apologize, but take it more as a warning.

Despite entertaining performances from the cast, there just isn’t enough in the script to make it interesting. Hugh Jackman tries to emanate big badness, but is outshined by Garret Hedlund’s over-the-top James Hook. Still, neither feels like a fully-developed character.

And despite director Joe Wright’s impressive resume of delivering period piece dramas (Atonement, Anna Karenina, Pride and Prejudice), he fails to make a cohesive whole out of several different stylized settings and motifs. It gets really confusing after spending the opening 20 minutes in World War II London, upon arriving in the pirates’ mines in Never Never Land we’re greeted with the crowds singing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and The Ramones “Blitzkrieg Bop.” If this had continued through the entire movie, like “Moulin Rouge” that would be one thing, but instead it just drops. 

The stylization of the island “natives” is incredibly interesting, attempting to blend indigenous cultures from around the world including Polynesian, Maori, Native American, and others. This might have been the best part of the movie if they had not cast Rooney Mara as Princess Tiger Lily. While Mara does a fine job at the part (that’s not the issue), the erasure of and marginalization of native peoples continues to be.

No, they don’t sing “What Makes the Red Man Red?” or engage in racist war whoops or stereotypes like the 1950s Disney animated Pan, but this is no less offensive. Hollywood’s continuing insistence on casting white actors in the place of ethnic minorities is unconscionable. The difference between this and the 1950s Disney Pan? We know better. And every second Mara is on screen, she seems out of place amongst the innovative and stylized amalgam of native peoples. It’s distracting and a major strike against what would have otherwise been the best part of the film.

“Pan” is a disappointment, from incoherent script to bungled execution. Kids in the theater at our screening were restless — never a good sign. It’s a disappointment given the potential for greatness here. Maybe it was missing some pixie dust. Whatever the reason, don’t waste your time in a theater with this one.

4 out of 10