In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
When it comes to kids movies, two questions must be answered:1. If I was a kid, would I be enjoying myself? 2. If I was a parent, would I hate watching this movie with my kid?
In the case of Pan, yes, I would have LOVED this film as a child, and no, I would not hate watching it with my kid. So in a nutshell, Joe Wright’s take on the classic tale is a success, albeit a very, very strange one.
Set during World War II (which is comically written on screen as “England, World War Two”), Pan is a prequel of sorts to the classic tale of flying children, pirates, amputees, mermaids, and pixie dust. In this version Peter Pan is left at an orphanage as a baby, where he is raised by a crack team of comically disgusting nuns. Little does he know, he’s “the chosen one” and he is eventually whisked away to Neverland where he embarks on an adventure. So yeah, pretty basic Harry Potter sorta thing.
Neverland is a magical place, currently under the dictatorial grip of Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman, who is having a ton of fun here). Blackbeard runs a gigantic mine where child labor is used to unearth pixie dust, or Pixum (sp?) as it’s called in Neverland. Blackbeard fears the manifestation of a prophecy stating that a flying boy will one day overthrow his rule. Peter shows up and can fly, so Blackbeard tries to kill him. That’s the jist. You get it.
Since it’s a prequel, we get to see Peter Pan meeting Tinkerbell for the first time, we are treated to the dawn of the friendship between Smee and Captain Hook, and we even get to see Tiger Lily, um, do whatever it is she does. I don’t know. I’ve never really cared for The Peter Pan mythos. Still, I recognized most of the references (there are many, some very clever, some not) and appreciated the stunning world design. Come to think of it, the design, although modern in the sense that it’s 3D and high definition, is distinctly olden-style. Even the script feels audaciously of another time, and I greatly appreciate that.
Levi Miller is fine, I guess, as the titular character. Like I said, I don’t really know much about what drives Peter, nor does anyone else, presumably. He’s a kid that flies. Rooney Mara is fine as Tiger Lily, as well. There was some controversy surrounding her character being played by a white person and not a Native American, but the criticism failed to acknowledge two pieces of information: Neverland is not America, and previous iterations of the tale caused controversy for casting ethnic actors in “tribal” roles. Can’t win.
The standout here is Garrett Hedlund as a young, not yet villainous Captain Hook. He’s still got both of his hands, and remains a protagonist for this version of the tale, but the performance is very strange. I said “standout” not “good.” And while it’s not outright bad, it’s just so darn weird. Hedlund is giving 300% and is trying oh-so-hard to be Harrison Ford, but the voice he’s doing can only be described as “John Goodman if he were a professional wrestler.” By the end of the movie I sort of fell into stride with what he was doing, but it was way too gaudy for me to feel comfortable.
I fear it sounds like I’m ripping this movie apart, but I assure you that it’s one of the better kids movies I’ve seen of late. No, it doesn’t reach the lofty heights of a Pixar movie or a proper Harry Potter tale, but it shamelessly goes huge where other films won’t, so much so that it avoids looking like a carbon copy of so many other films of its kind, despite being completely in tune with what is to be expected from big-budget adaptations of children’s fantasy. It’s not bad, and in most aspects it’s quite good.
I did cringe at one part, however. When Pan first arrives at Blackbeard’s Pixum mines, the workers are all singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as a sort of railroad song. It’s very, very offputting (especially knowing Kurt Cobain’s disdain for the corporate adoption of his music). So does Neverland get music decades before it exists? Is that one of the magical things about the place? Later they sing “Blitzkrieg Bop” as well, and it’s equally cringe-worthy. My toes are curling just thinking about it.
Pan opens today in Philly area theaters.