Director: Joe Wright
Major Players: Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara
Out Of Five: 2.5
I had a bad feeling about this one. Was it because its release date was put back from July to October? It wasn’t a good sign, although pitching the film at half term makes commercial sense, especially as the only big family competition comes in the animated shape of Hotel Transylvania 2. Or perhaps it was something to do with the flying galleons in the trailer. Somehow, they just didn’t look right.
But, misgivings or not, I’ve seen it and, despite the title, it’s not the Peter Pan that we’re familiar with. It’s a prequel, showing how an orphan called Peter (Levi Miller) found his way to Neverland and earned his subsequent name of Peter Pan. There’s plenty of pirates, of course, but this time under the command of Captain Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) who uses kidnapped boys to dig out lumps of solidified fairy dust that will give him immortality. Blackbeard is also the sworn enemy of the native Neverlanders and the fairies, who have been exiled to the forest. They believe a boy will come to lead a rebellion against Blackbeard, but to prove he’s that boy, Peter has to be able to fly …….
So we all know how it’s going to turn out, don’t we? The other characters that we know from the original are as we might expect. Smee (Adeel Akhtar) works for Blackbeard but is as dithery as ever. Hook (Garrett Hedlund) has his full quota of hands and, although he momentarily encounters a giant crocodile – and isn’t keen on dabbling his hand in the water – he manages to keep them for the duration of the film. There’s a momentary encounter with Tinkerbell, although we never get close enough to see her face. And Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) isn’t a vulnerable princess: she’s feisty and more than a little interested in Hook. It’s mutual.
The whole thing is a very curious culture clash. The first part of the film takes place in what feels like a Dickensian orphanage, yet the backdrop is actually World War II. And when Peter arrives in Blackbeard’s domain, he and everybody else is greeted by the chorus from Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, orchestrated by Blackbeard himself. How did they learn that one? Blackbeard the pirate, of course, had his own story, which was nothing to do with Peter Pan ……. and so it goes on. Director Joe Wright and his writer Jason Fuchs seem to have cherry picked from their favourite children’s films and stories and the result is a mess, a patchwork rather than a coherent story.
Worse still, this a film that lacks one crucial ingredient. Magic. Not all the fairy dust, mermaids and flying galleons (and how they actually fly is still an irritating mystery) can give it the sparkle it so desperately needs. Are Warner Brothers attempting to play Disney at their own game by making a live version of a classic? If that’s the plan, they’ll need to come up with something stronger than this. The one thing in their favour is Hugh Jackman’s show-stopping Blackbeard, complete with a deliberately obvious syrup and dodgy teeth. Hopefully he won’t repeat Johnny Depp’s mistake of playing the role ad nauseam.
How Pan will fare as a family film is doubtful. It has some elaborate set pieces, including a spectacular crocodile leaping out of the water, Jurassic World style, but they’re few and far between and they’re unlikely to be enough to prevent the younger members of the family from fidgeting in their seats. It’s very wordy at times and, judging from the youngsters at the screening I attended, they found it tricky to keep up with what was happening. Thankfully, there was an obvious villain to hiss and an obvious hero to cheer for, otherwise they would have been totally lost.
For a film that’s all about magic, Pan is sadly short on enchantment. It’s one prequel that we really didn’t need.
Pan is released in cinemas around the UK on Friday, 16 October and is reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 15 October.