TL;DR – I feel like I have seen this movie, this is the same story over and over again, but it has its moments
Score – 2.5 out of 5 stars
Pan is a story of how Peter Pan became the boy that never grew up, how Hook becomes Captain Hook and how Hugh Jackman decided that we was just going to have fun and ham it up for an hour and a half.
One area that the film does excel in is its casting (well mostly, I’ll get to that point in a moment). Levi Miller (Pan) has to do a lot of work in this film. As the titular Pan most of the interactions revolve around him in some way, so for a very young actor, he equips himself quite well, which is good because the film would have been much much worse otherwise. Hugh Jackman (Blackbeard) embraces the ham and runs with it and I say all the power to you. Garrett Hedlund also shines as the smarmy James Hook and Adeel Akhtar is also great as the bumbling Mr Smee. But then, of course, we have the issue that I will devote the whole next paragraph to ‘Tiger Lilly’.
When you go back and watch the classic Disney version of Peter Pan one of the things that becomes instantly uncomfortable is the depiction of Native Americans in the form of the Piccaninny tribe. With this in mind, the creators of Pan took the approach of reimagining the Piccaninny tribe as not a Native American tribe but as a sort of amalgamation of a number of different cultures. One the one hand there are some pluses from this approach, it allows you to cast the indigenous Australian actor Jack Charles as Chief Great Little Panther, and Korean actor Na Tae-joo as Kwahu. As well as this it allows you to bring in different motifs when designing the tribe, there are aspects of Tibetan, Nepalese and indigenous South American cultures to name a few. However, in this reimagining of the Tribe, they chose to cast Rooney Mara as Tiger Lilly. One the one hand this is problematic because the character is the weakest performance of the leads, which is a shame because Rooney Mara has been great in other films but she just does not work here. One the other hand it is problematic because Hollywood already has significantly fewer roles for women of colour, let alone Native American actresses and given that every other lead in the film was white, it also feels like it was an unnecessary change. As Viola Davis recently said at the Emmys “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity” and that becomes harder when what few opportunities that are there get removed.
The one big problem with this film is the story and that is because it is almost a carbon copy of a number of films that Hollywood has churned out in the past few decades, I mean the movie opens with a narration that seems to be only there to try to justify the notion of an original prequel to a beloved classic and that’s not a great first impression. This is because they have seemed to have cut and pasted the notions of Joseph Campbell’s seminal work ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’. I wonder if you have heard this before, a young boy stuck in his dreary life wakes up one day to find out that he is actually somebody special and that there has been a prophecy that only he can complete and adventures ensue. When done right you get the masterpieces that are the Star Wars trilogy (the first one, not that I needed to clarify that since I was referring to masterpieces) and Harry Potter etc. However, since Christopher Vogler took the notions of Campbell’s work and applied them to script writing in ‘The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers’ this kind of story has become a lazy hack for writers to get audience investment with a character without having any original thought into the process. I bring up Star Wars again because this film is almost a note for note retreat of Episode 4: A New Hope. Including (Spoiler Warning) a point where the roguish Captain Hook decides to take the selfish route and leave rather than stay and fight, only to literally fly back during the climax of the film to save Pan from Blackbeard. This is becoming tiresome Hollywood, could you please stop.
Tone wise this film does not seem to know if it wants to be serious or slapstick which gets a bit annoying, that is until Hugh Jackman strides onto the film whilst everyone sings the Chorus from Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirt’ and at that point you are either going to be able to accept the absurd or you are going to become very frustrated with this film. I went with the absurd, but I must say as much as that is a really great entrance, why were the pirates singing Nirvana and the Ramones? What?
Visually this film excels, there are some truly wonderful sequences where it is clear that a lot of time and love have gone into crafting them. Skimming over water bubbles filled with fish, a beautiful rendition of WW2 London and beautiful jungle, just to name a few. One thing that didn’t work as well is the Tribal Village, which just felt like you were looking at a set, not a real place, it was almost an uncanny valley thing that it was trying so hard to look organic that it actually ended up looking fake.
In the end, Pan is nothing new, and in fact feels like a movie I have seen several times before but with a new coat of paint. However, because of the commitment of the actors, I found myself smiling throughout the film, so it might not be anything new, but it is generally done well and well there is a worse way to spend an hour, yes I am looking at you Pixels.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Joe Wright
Written by – Jason Fuchs
Based on – ‘Peter Pan’ by J.M. Barrie
Starring – Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, Adeel Akhtar, Nonso Anozie, Na Tae-joo & Jack Charles
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: PG; Ireland: 12A; NZ: PG; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13