Starring: Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, Adeel Akhtar, Nonzo Alonzie, Kathy Burke, Amanda Seyfried
Rated PG for Fantasy Action Violence, Language, and Some Thematic Material
"Pan" is closer to a misfire than an outright success. The prequel to "Peter Pan" is already notorious for being a box office bomb, and while it has some serious problems, overall I came out of the theater with a smile on my face and a skip in my step. Not many movies can make that claim.
Peter (Miller) is a young orphan living in London during World War II. At night, some of his fellow orphans disappear. It isn't long before he figures out what happened to them. Sky pirates have kidnapped them and taken them to Neverland. There, they're forced to work in a mine for a nasty villain named Blackbeard (Jackman). Blackbeard takes a special interest in Peter because he believes that this young boy is the prophecy that can destroy him. But with the help of another slave, a rough guy named James Hook (Hedlund), he escapes and finds a tribe of Indians, the sworn enemy of Blackbeard. Now Peter must learn to believe in himself if he is to save Neverland.
There are two big problems with "Pan." The first is the screenplay. It's a bit of a mess. The particulars of the prophecy, despite being told with some cool animation, makes no sense whatsoever. Also curious is the use of some pop songs as war chants. I'll give the film credit for using them effectively, but it's like, what?
The second problem is all too common these days: visual overload. The film looks nice in the daytime (at night or in the dark is a different story...I shudder to think what the experience would be like in 3D), but the visuals drown out the story. A good film uses impressive visuals to enhance the story, not the other way around.
There are other problems too, like a sluggish and overlong opening act, pacing that's at times erratic, and an unsure footing between action and kid-friendly. However, these are relatively small quibbles. The first two, are not.
Hugh Jackman is the biggest name in the film, and he's clearly having a ball playing such an over-the-top villain (ironic since he's widely known as one of the nicest guys working in Hollywood). As fatuous as the character is, he's still a formidable threat and manages to chill on occasion. Newcomer Levi Miller, while not the best child actor in film history, is more than capable of holding his own against Jackman's scenery chewing. Garrett Hedlund also chews the scenery a lot as the Han Solo-like Hook, but he comes across as hammy. Still, there's no denying his charisma and appeal. Rooney Mara is quite good as Tiger Lily, Peter's confidant and Hook's love interest (she and Hedlund have a nice, playful chemistry).
I won't deny that I expected more from Joe Wright. Eight years ago, he directed "Atonement," one of the most complex and deeply affecting love stories I've seen. Only someone with tremendous talent could have pulled that movie off. One of the things that film did right was take its time and clearly display each piece of the puzzle. That doesn't happen here; the film seems to hurtle forward with tremendous energy, but giving the viewer no time to soak in the story and the characters.
And yet, I liked the film. The action scenes are a lot of fun and the film occasionally looks fantastic. It's doubtful that it will recoup its $150 million budget, but it probably deserves to.