Editor’s Notes: Pan is currently out in wide theatrical release.
From exquisitely crafted period pieces like Atonement to modern fairy tales like Hannah, Joe Wright continues to make interesting choices in projects as a director. His previous film, 2012’s Anna Karenina showcased once again his dexterity in overcoming a familiar topic with an astounding visual aesthetic and captivating characters. Pan, his latest directorial effort opening in theaters this weekend, showcases his unique visual flair I have come to deeply admire but the interesting characters and engaging emotional undercurrent flourishing in the rest of his filmography are nowhere to be found.
. . .interesting characters and engaging emotional undercurrent flourishing in the rest of his filmography are nowhere to be found.
The simple fact of the matter is that Pan is a film rich in visuals but burdened with an atrocious screenplay. There is nothing wrong with cliches; they exist for a reason. But the way in which screenwriter Jason Fuchs so lazily oozes out a limp “chosen one” origin story just screams “I wrote this so I could have a check to cash to hold me over until I get paid for Wonder Woman.”
Live-action adaptations of classic children stories are in right now, so it makes sense that the Peter Pan story would rear its head again on the big screen. What doesn’t make sense is why they chose the dullest way possible to tell said story. Levi Miller stars as Peter, a boy left on the doorstep of an orphanage during WWI by his mother Mary (Amanda Seyfried). Under constant threat of an air raid, Peter spends his time trying to avoid the wrath of Mother Barnabas (Kathy Burke) and waiting for his mother to come and reclaim him. One night, Peter is kidnapped by pirates who are paying the orphanage in exchange for child labor. I’ll wait here while you reread that sentence.
Said child labor involves being whisked away to Neverland, a place where the opening excavation scene of the Exorcist goes on for miles and miles. Peter’s new job is to dig up fairy dust crystals so that his boss, Blackbeard, can grind them up and huff it so he can live forever. Blackbeard is portrayed by Hugh Jackman in an incredibly enjoyable performance which camp can’t even begin to describe. He’s just one of those bad guys that’s fun to watch. Did I mention he sings “Smells Like Teen Spirit” when he’s first introduced in the film?
Blackbeard is portrayed by Hugh Jackman in an incredibly enjoyable performance which camp can’t even begin to describe.
Of all the cast members in a film featuring a lot of great talent, it seems that Hugh Jackman was the only one that got the memo about playing to the last row in the balcony. With the limited exception of Adeel Akhtar’s Sam Smiegel (yes, even Smee gets a damn backstory), the remaining cast characters is burdened with being too serious or too dull. Often it ends up being a mix of both, with Peter’s constant whining and existential crisis depleting the movie of any fun or adventure associated with the character.
Those remaining characters in question are James P. Hook and Tiger Lilly. Garret Hedlund gives a truly bizarre and strange performance, though not in the enjoyably bad fashion of Hugh Jackman. Delivering all his lines from somewhere between his lungs and his uvula, Hedlund appears not to be portraying a quirky pirate but instead the weird love child of Harrison Ford and Jack Nicholson. One could give Pan points for changing the previously racist “savages” that inhabited the island to a wide variety of races, but they once again fail to do anything with it. As Tiger Lilly, Rooney Mara plays her role straighter than Peter plays his. She’s a dull bore to watch and given nothing to do beyond being someone that Hook spends the whole movie trying to bone.
On the flip side, Aline Bonetto (Amelie, A Very Long Engagement) showcases multiple intricately crafted and Oscar-worthy practical sets that work in tandem with the visual effects department to create a world that looks magical and exciting despite anything of the sort happening in it. The cinematography adds another beautiful layer to the film, with the tandem work of Seamus McGarvey and John Mathieson providing some of the only exciting and lively aspects of the film. This is a very beautiful movie, and the 3D actually adds more to the film’s visual aspect in a way no other recent films have done. Yes, Pan is giant turd in a flaming paper bag. But look how pretty the fire looks!
Pan showcases a unique visual flair but interesting characters and engaging emotional undercurrent are nowhere to be found.