Director: Joe Wright
Stars: Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund
Duration: 111 mins
KRS Releasing Ltd
London born and bred director Joe Wright is a filmmaker whose work I have constantly admired ever since his feature debut, a solid adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in 2005. His other literary adaptations include the moving adaptation of Atonement and the visually striking and daring Anna Karenina, while the extraordinary thriller Hanna sits proudly on the list of my all-time favourite films.
Wright has consistently brought to each of his films a stimulating sense of style. Yet, he has never shirked on engrossing storytelling or compelling characters, every one of his films enhanced but never overwhelmed by their production design.
So, it is with some disappointment that I report that Pan, which proffers an origin story for author J.M Barrie’s most beloved creation, Peter Pan, never quite soars, despite its many flights of fancy; the lingering impression being that more time and effort was spent on the visuals than on the story or characters.
The movie opens with an almost eerie scene is which a young woman (Amanda Seyfried) is seen scurrying desperately through the night-time streets of London clutching a baby. She leaves the baby on the doorstep of the Lambeth Home for Boys – with a note and a pan flute charm hanging around his neck.
Twelve years later the boy, named Peter (Levi Miller), is still in the orphanage, under the tyrannical watch of Mother Barnabas (a rather terrifying Kathy Burke). Peter pines for his mother, convinced she will one day return for him. Yet, when one night he is kidnapped by a band of pirates and whisked off to the magical world of Neverland, Peter discovers some extraordinary truths about his heritage, as he battles the wicked pirate captain Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman).
More time and effort was spent on the visuals than on the story or characters
Let’s start with the good stuff. If the film does not deliver in terms of storyline and character development, it certainly offers spectacle in spades, with some awe-inspiring scenes which will definitely impress the younger set. Peter and fellow orphans are kidnapped in the dead of night by abseiling pirates who sneak through the roof and whisk them off to a waiting pirate ship that hovers against the bleak, black night London sky.
This being World War II, it’s no surprise that a squadron of RAF Spitfires attack this strange-looking airborne machine and as the pirate ship evades the airborne attack.
It is the first of many visually stunning sequences – from Blackbeard’s forbidding grey quarry (where a chorus of imprisoned miners sing a rousing chorus of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit in a scene reminiscent of Moulin Rouge); to the natives’ lush and verdant Tree Village and the enchanted silvery blue lagoon that is home of the mermaids, the shimmering presence of the miniscule fairies, shining an ethereal light on proceedings.
It is undoubtedly picturesque and Wright also spared no expense on the action that unfolds against these lovely backdrops – the prota-gonists swashing and buckling their way across the story with rampant enthusiasm.
And yet, despite the non-stop skirmishes, the script by Jason Fuchs offers a lacklustre storyline and rather one-dimensional characters which are hard to truly engage with.
While the stage is set for some deep background story with the film’s opening scene, Peter’s parents’ past is only explained briefly by Tiger Lily and any emotional resonance this storyline could have offered is completely lost.
The plotline regarding Blackbeard’s fixation on eternal youth is rather plodding. In this version of events, James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) is not yet the evil pirate captain (he still has both hands) we know and love to hate, but an adventurer stuck in Neverland who becomes a solid ally to Peter … with some (not really) ominous foreshadowing of their enmity-to-come thrown in.
There is little the cast can do with the storyline and un-inspiring dialogue they have to work with.
Pan does not deserve the critical, um, panning it has received internationally, and makes for solid family viewing. Yet, it is difficult to ignore the myriad possibilities the premise offered but that got lost.