An excellent Huge Action alongside some poor creative choices
Pan is directed by Joe Wright (Anna Karenina (2012)) and marks sharp change in creative direction for a director associated with serious period pieces. It follows the current trend of re-imagining classic stories in the same vein as Maleficent (2014). In this case Pan predates the classic Peter Pan story and sets out to tell the story of a young Peter and how he became the character we know in J. M. Barrie’s book. Hugh Jackman is Captain Blackbeard who has an arrangement with a dodgy nun (Kathy Burke) to take orphan/abandoned boys from her Lambeth institution to work in his pixie dust mine. Peter (Levi Miller) is convinced that Mother Barnabus is up to no good and breaks into her office to find she is hoarding rations (its World War II) and has a odd chest full of gold coins. That evening he is whisked away by the pirates and we are off to Neverland for an adventure with pirates, Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) and fairies.
To put things into context this film has flopped. It had a weak $15m opening in North America and worldwide has just topped $75m. For a film with a reported production budget of $150m its nowhere near breaking even. In fairness the film has fared better in the UK opening last weekend in third place with (£2.7m/$4m). The best thing about the film is the performance by Hugh Jackman as the villainous Blackbeard who extracts every ounce of his character and commits completely. Let’s put it this way, we meet him singing Teen Spirit by Nirvana. I liked the opening act of the film as it has the feel of a classic kids versus adults story and when we first see the mine it has a Mad Max vibe as Blackbeard has created his own cult, he has the kids convinced they will be rewarded for hard work with all the toffee they can eat. There are some other nice touches such as having one of the pirates dressed as a scary clown and the film has Peter trying to deal with the fact that the adult characters are lying and manipulating him.
I think the film has two problems that could have put off audiences. The first is James Hook (Garrett Hedlund). He adopts a terrible pantomime pirate voice that he hams up to the max and every time he appeared on screen I died a little inside because he took me of the movie. He has no chemistry with Tiger Lily so it is impossible to buy into the budding romance. There are also some odd creative choices that I didn’t think were appropriate for a family film. The is a sequence in the film that centres around Tiger Lily’s village when it is attacked by the pirates. The decision was taken by whoever that when one of the villagers was shot by a pirate they would disappear into a puff of colourful smoke/dust. Anyone remember the harrowing scene from War of the Worlds (2005)? This is topped off by what only be described as an execution scene that we ultimately see through Peter’s eyes but it’s obvious what happened with the spray of blood replaced by a puff of blue dust. Very, very, odd. There are ways and means of doing these things where you don’t have to show anything e.g. walking the plank. Show the character going off the edge of the plank then nothing.
Pan is a long, long way from being a masterpiece but I think it has been harshly judged in certain circles. The first act and Hugh Jackman are a big plus but it is let down by some odd creative choices which presumably is a weakness in direction. If you have young kids you might want to think twice about taking them to see Pan. My rating is a weak 3/5.