A relatively late scene in Joe Wright’s Pan pretty much sums up everything that is both good and bad about the film. Hugh Jackman’s marvellous, bonkers pirate captain Blackbeard stands upon the deck of a flying pirate ship and screams “burn the fairies!” Meanwhile, his pirate crew obligingly turn their flamethrowers upon a swarm they have encountered within a crystalline cavern that slightly resembles Superman’s Fortress of solitude. It’s a visually entertaining, utterly bizarre moment, the like of which we’ve never before seen in Neverland. But it’s not much more than a clever little half idea that’s never really capitalised on. Joe Wright’s Pan is full of them: Intriguing little flourishes and set pieces that never seem to gel or are discarded without further reference.
Following a prologue voiceover that promises a story that will shed light on the origins of Peter Pan and Captain Hook, we see an, at this stage flightless, Peter being swiped from his Kensington orphanage by pirates. Spirited away to Neverland, Peter finds himself toiling in the island’s fairy dust mines, working for the nefarious captain pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). Blackbeard is searching for the islands last remaining stores of fairy dust to ensure his continued health and eternal youthfulness. Attracting unwanted attention from the guards, Peter finds himself faced with a public execution, but being booted off the deck of a flying pirate ship awakes his dormant power of flight, catching the eye of James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), also a prisoner, but with plans to escape Neverland.
In its favour, Pan does give us a glimpse of Neverland from a slightly different angle. A pre-flight Peter mixing with a pre-captain Hook is a novel addition to the Neverland Story and Jackman completely excels as the manic Blackbeard. The film’s greatest failing is that it feels, in the worst way, too much like a bedtime story that’s being made up on the hoof.
So, when we arrive in Neverland, the pirates are singing Smells Like Teen Spirit and Blitzkrieg Bop. A rock n roll musical, one assumes? Well the idea of singing pirates is jettisoned after a paltry two numbers, twenty five minutes in. Tiger Lily’s (Rooney Mara) tribe of native warriors do battle with their pirate foes and, when downed, explode in a shower of colourful powder. Again, something which is forgotten within five minutes when Peter, who has been doused in the chiefs powdery remains, giggles and laughs atop a flying bird. Nothing here seems to have any consequence. “That’s fine” I hear you counter, “Neverland is essentially one big game of make believe” but when the individual pieces of this larger puzzle don’t seem to fit, the end result is jarring and patchy. Chief amongst the offences is the off-kilter Hook. Hedlund plays him as a dashing, devious cowboy with a Han Solo quality, full of charisma and deceit, but a world away from the Hook we know. In itself, it’s a perfectly fine performance, but one which is wasted by a story that resolutely refuses to include it in any meaningful or interesting way.
Screenwriter Jason Fuchs has aimed high with his original interpretation of the Pan origin story, but it’s execution is a sporadic and garbled disappointment.
Fantasy, Adventure, Family | UK, 2015 | PG | Warner Bros | 16th October 2015 (UK) |Dir.Joe Wright | Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Amanda Seyfried, Rooney Mara, Cara Delevingne