It really shouldn’t be so hard to come up with a decent film adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s classic story “Peter Pan”. And yet, it is. In the new movie “Pan”, however, director Joe Wright does something a little different: rather than focusing on the events of the original book, this movie is an origin story, telling the tale of how Peter arrived in Neverland and discovered he could fly.
Peter (Levi Miller) is an orphan abandoned by his mother (Amanda Seyfried) when he was a baby. At the age of twelve, he is living in a London orphanage at the height of World War II, tortured by the selfish nuns who run the institution. Then, orphans begin to go missing in the middle of the night, until one night Peter himself is captured by a flying pirate ship and whisked off to an island known as Neverland, where he and the other boys are enslaved to work in the mines there under the rule of the fearsome pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). It is there that Peter learns that he can fly, and that there is a prophecy that a boy who can fly will one day lead the natives in a fight against Blackbeard. Peter meets the roguish James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) in the mines and escapes with him to find the princess Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), not just to join the fight against Blackbeard, but also so Peter can discover what happened to his mother.
“Pan” is a beautiful movie—this is exactly what a live-action “Peter Pan” film was meant to look like. The opening scenes in London are appropriately dark and dreary, all greys and whites and blacks; when the characters reach Neverland, the environment is lush and colorful, and the costumes are great too. Jackman is almost unrecognizable as the flamboyant Blackbeard, who inexplicably knows the lyrics to Nirvana songs. Miller is a bright young actor, just right for the part of Peter, while Hedlund appears to have fun playing the sarcastic, devil-may-care Hook. Mara is woefully miscast in the part of Tiger Lily for obvious reasons, although to be fair, Neverland’s “natives” appear to be made up of a wide variety of races and ethnicities.
As far as origin stories go, “Pan” fails in that it leaves more questions than answers. The main journey revolves around Peter learning to believe in himself and his ability to fly. But we never find out how it turns out that he will never grow old, never get any indication of Hook turning into an evil pirate, never find out how Peter becomes friends with the fairy Tinker Bell—obviously, the filmmakers are saving all that for a sequel that will likely never happen. It’s all rather predictable, and while some of the action sequences are fun to watch, the climax doesn’t even feel like a climax, and Blackbeard never feels like a formidable villain. There are some fun nods to the original story, like when Hook appears frightened at Tiger Lily’s mention of crocodiles being in the water, but overall these new characters—or new interpretations of old characters—are lackluster, and Neverland loses some of its magic without the presence of Tinker Bell, Wendy, the Lost Boys, and the villainous Captain Hook.
“Pan” is decent family entertainment, but with a cast and crew like the one it has, it really is a disappointment that it isn’t better.
Runtime: 111 minutes. Rated PG for fantasy action violence, language and some thematic material.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre