Director Joe Wright’s latest, Pan, might be the most unnecessary return to Neverland to see the big screen. Wright and writer Jason Fuchs take the tale of the boy who refused to grow up and turn his backstory into the typical chosen one fare, wedge in a couple of warrior princesses and toss out all the humor and color of a tick-tocking crocodile.
Abandoned as a baby by his young mother, Peter (Levi Miller) is raised in a London orphanage during WWII. As Peter grows older, an evil Nun, Nazi saturation bombing, and miserable gruel plague his dreary life. If there ever were a need to escape the horrors of reality to the magic of Neverland, this would be it. But when a flying pirate ship abducts Peter and his fellow orphans, things go from bad to worse.
Under the rule of the pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), the abducted children are forced to work in mines digging for fairy dust while chanting Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and The Ramones’s “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Why? God only knows, because after those two songs, the singing ceases save for one tribal chant and a couple of forgettable Lily Allen tunes.
If this prequel exists to explain where Peter Pan came from, how Peter and Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) know each other, and how Captain James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) got that hook, then Pan answers little and inadvertently asks dozens more. Why do these children sing a ’70s punk song and a ’90s grunge song when their ruthless overlord appears? Does Peter fly because he has a happy thought or because he is the chosen one? Are the flying ships thinking happy thoughts? I assume that they are powered by the fairy dust minerals, but if fairy dust is in such short supply, why are there so many flying vessels?
That’s too many questions for a children’s movie to answer, and Pan doesn’t even try. It just keeps moving deeper and deeper into the quicksand, attempting to explain the war between the pirates and the natives, who Peter’s mother was, and where the fairy caves are hidden. One piece of animation in the memory tree is quite impressive, but it would be better served as the prologue to another movie. It just adds to Pan, which is already a mess, and no amount of exposition is going to tie it together.
Although billed for children, Pan certainly isn’t for kids. The imagery is too complex, and the story is too convoluted for young kids to follow. The overall product is too boring for parents and too muddled to invoke any feelings of nostalgia. The performances are trite: Peter is filled with doubt, Hook is the roguish sidekick supposed to supply the humor—he doesn’t—and Tiger Lily is stuck with the thankless job of exposition delivery. Even the computer-generated images fail to pull themselves from the green screen behind them.
Pan is a needless prequel that is seemingly designed not to connect with a previous Peter Pan cannon (if there is one) but to set off a series of sequels and a brand new Peter Pan franchise. Why? Childish men who refuse to grow up already overrun Hollywood. Do they really need another hero?
Directed by: Joe Wright
Written by: Jason Fuchs
Based on characters introduced by: J.M. Barrie
Produced by: Greg Berlanti, Sarah Schechter, Paul Webster
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, Adeel Akhtar, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Burke
Warner Bros. Rated PG, Running time 111 minutes, Opens October 9, 2015