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Review: Pan (2015)

Pan (2015)

Directed by: Joe Wright

Premise: A prequel to the stories of J.M. Barrie. Twelve year old Peter (Levi Miller) is abducted by pirates led by Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). The boy escapes with the help of James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and they appeal to a native tribe for help.

What Works: Pan has a great look. The sets and costumes are well designed and the movie includes some unusual creatures, locations, and other creative flourishes that, although weird, distinguish it from other versions of the Peter Pan story. Director Joe Wright is underrated as a visual stylist; movies like Hanna, Atonement, and 2012’s Anna Karenina featured some interesting visuals and in the past Wright has found ways to give familiar material a fresh cinematic spin. That’s especially important in this film. The story of Peter Pan has been adapted to the screen many times and in the very least Pan possesses a fresh approach to the material. The movie also features a delightfully bizarre performance by Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard. As usual, Jackman brings a lot of energy and physicality to the role. However, he has rarely played a heavy and Jackman manages to be a threatening villain in this film.
What Doesn’t: Pan faces an inherent problem that it never overcomes: there is no reason to create a prequel to Peter Pan. There was nothing about the existing Peter Pan mythos that suggested a compelling backstory and the filmmakers fail to create one. The whole justification for creating a prequel rests on enhancing or changing our understanding of the existing story and its characters. Better prequels such as X-Men: First Class and The Godfather: Part II do that. Even the much maligned Star Wars prequels managed to fundamentally change the audience’s understanding of the conflict in the original trilogy. Interestingly, Pan is highly reminiscent of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Like that movie, Pan is about a boy who discovers that he is a prophesized savior and is inadvertently wrapped up in a larger conflict. That story formula has been seen before in everything from Dune to Avatar and there is very little surprising or interesting about the way it is done here. Also like The Phantom Menace, this movie suffers from some of the same basic storytelling flaws. There are no concrete stakes to the conflict and the characters have no discernable goal. The good guys run and the bad guys follow but there is no finish line that they are racing toward and no discernable consequences to any of it. The movie gets bogged down in a lot of exposition; some of it is presented creatively but the visuals are so abstract that the explanation isn’t always clear. The characters of Pan are not interesting. Pan focuses on the triangular relationship between Peter, Hook, and Tiger Lily and no one changes in a meaningful way over the course of the story. Especially terrible is Garret Hedlund as Hook. Hedlund shows no signs of the character he will eventually become and his performance is obnoxiously hammy. Rooney Mara is cast as Tiger Lily and she is a blank slate; the movie gives her nothing to do and she has no traits that define her as a character. One of the especially odd aspects of Pan is the music. Early on, the pirates sing twentieth century rock songs for no apparent reason and this never comes up again in the movie. Pan is clearly intended to be the first chapter of an ongoing series and so a lot of this film is about setting up the central cast and putting the characters in position for the next installment. But the box office failure of Pan means that those further adventures are unlikely to happen. If that’s the case, viewers are left with this single title and it does not play as a standalone film.

Bottom Line: Pan has some interesting visuals and it might have been an acceptable first chapter if it led to better follow ups. Bu Pan does not leave the viewer excited for another installment and it is just another loud special effects extravaganza.

Episode: N/A (October 25, 2015)