Pan may be the origin story nobody wanted but it is certainly not the disaster I was expecting.
The idea that Peter Pan had to have come from somewhere is one that, I admit, I had never pondered, but Pan tells that story in a way that has much to offer for both kids and adults – though it doesn’t really achieve maximum impact until about two-thirds in.
Pan opens with a distraught mother leaving her baby on the front steps of an orphanage and tucking a note in his onesie before fleeing into the night – the close-ups of baby Peter show a Pan Pipes necklace around his neck… The door opens and a nun appears… looking none too pleased.
Cut to World War II and Peter (Levi Miller) is asking what happened to the bacon that usually accompanied the orphans’ gruel on Fridays. It’s reminiscent of Oliver asking for more in the movie of the same name – and the nuns of the orphanage are almost as unsavory as the man Oliver begs from.
When he’s told there’s no bacon because the war’s on and it’s rationed, he mutters to his pal Nibs (Lewis McDougall) that the Mother Superior, Mother Barnabas (Kathy Burke), is probably hoarding it all for herself. To add to his discomfort, orphans are disappearing in the night – and not, as the nuns suggest, to go to new homes.
One night, Peter and Nibs break into the Mother Superior’s chamber and find a hidden room filled with food and a ton of gold coins. When they return to their beds, Peter and several others are spirited into the night by a flying sailing vessel – and wind up in Neverland, where they find themselves even worse off than before: mining for pixum, or fairy dust.
The ruler of Neverland is the pirate Captain Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) and his rule is very firm – break a rule and you get to walk the plank at several hundred feet above the ground. Which is where Peter finds himself after being framed for theft, though things don’t quite go the way anyone expects – and Peter winds up back in the mines alongside James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), who has an escape planned.
The escape is a close one, but Hook and Peter have moved from one fire pot to another, winding up captives of a strange multi-racial native tribe ruled by Princess Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara). Much of the second act feels like an Indiana Jones movie (aided by Hedlund’s very Harrison ford-like performance as Hook).
The final act is the face-off between Peter and the natives and Blackbeard and the crews of his flying pirate ships.
Pan is told in a very childlike one-darn-thing-after-another way, with big action sequences and some pretty impressive 3D effects. Jackman appears to be really enjoying playing the villain, using a revelation of the effects of pixum to give the pirate a hint of humanity and a defining motivation.
Miller is suitably mischievous, curious, enthusiastic and confused as events swirl around him – becoming the hero he needs to be in a natural unforced way. Hedlund can’t quite muster up the level of panache achieved by the young Harrison Ford, but it’s enough – and he makes the most of some peculiar, uncomfortable attempts to flirt with Tiger Lily.
Tiger Lily is the weakest link here – not because Mara isn’t good in the role, but because it’s the most underwritten role. In plot terms, she exists to provide key exposition and be subjected to Hook’s awkward attempts at flirtation.
The script, by Jason Fuchs, gets muscular direction from Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna). The action sequences are (mostly) fun and the cast is pretty solid – though I’m not sure we needed three mermaids (all played by Cara Delavigne) and the bumbling young Smee (Adeel Akhtar, Utopia, The UK drama) is pretty much a waste of space.
A teacher who was one of the group I saw Pan with, noted that when she staged the play Peter Pan, one of the students wanted to know why Peter was the only Lost Boy who flew – and the only one who could understand Tinkerbell. Pan answers those questions in an appropriate way.
Final Grade: B
Photos by Laurie Sparham/Courtesy of Warner Bros.