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New Release Review - PAN

The origin story of Peter Pan.

Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Joe Wright

Starring: Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy burke, Cara Delevingne




"Pan mixes late 20th century popular music with early 20th century bigotry, and most of the movie consists of the sort of spectacle-as-sleep-inducer set-pieces you find tacked onto the end of Marvel superhero movies."



JM Barrie's creation, Peter Pan, has gone through many screen incarnations, beginning with a 1924 silent feature. The definitive version came in 1953 in the form of Disney's animated take on the character. A 2003 live action movie proved a flop on release. The tale has been referenced in movies like The Lost Boys and Jurassic Park 3, which borrowed the clock in a croc gag. We've had a sequel to the story - Spielberg's much derided Hook - and now we have a prequel, because this is the age of the unwanted origin story, in Joe Wright's Pan, whose title has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, given the overwhelmingly negative reviews. I'm afraid to say you're about to read another one.
Things start off promisingly with a prologue in which the infant Peter is left on the doorstep of a London orphanage by his young Mother (Amanda Seyfried). We then forward 12 years to join Peter (Levi Miller), still in the orphanage in the midst of World War II. Peter stumbles upon a horde of treasure hidden away by the Mother Superior (Kathy Burke), who he learns has been selling children to a mystery buyer. That night, a flying ship arrives and steals a bunch of kids, including Peter, whisking them away to Neverland.
This early London set sequence lulls us into a false sense of security, evoking the sort of old school British charm we saw in the wonderful first installment of the ultimately ill-fated Chronicles of Narnia franchise, with a nod to the work of Powell and Pressburger for good measure. Few mainstream directors use light as a storytelling tool, but Wright employs shafts of light to create frames within the frame, directing our gaze into the screen in a way that makes use of the otherwise redundant 3D. The sequence in which the children are stolen is one of the most visually delightful you'll see all year, beams of Spielbergian light appearing through the ceiling as kids are whisked up into the hovering ship above.
Once that vessel berths in Neverland, the movie collapses like a snowman on the first day of summer. Wright's vision of Neverland is akin to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome remade by Baz Luhrman, complete with vast choirs of child slaves singing popular songs like Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and The Ramones' 'Blitzkrieg Bop'. The nostalgic balloon inflated so well in the pre-Neverland scenes is instantly burst. Ruling over this land is a wildly over the top Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard, while Captain Hook (Garrett Hedlund, an actor whose appeal continues to elude me) has yet to become a villain here. Wright is capable of moments of cinematic brilliance (the first half of Atonement), but his obsession with out-camping Luhrman makes much of his work infuriating. This is the filmmaker who managed to sneak a fart gag into Anna Karenina after all.
Much was made of the controversial casting of Rooney Mara as the Native American Tiger Lily, but the most offensive aspect of Pan is the cowardly and duplicitous ethnic sidekick played here by Adeel Akhtar, gurning like an Asian Mantan Moreland in a trope that really has no place in 2015. It doesn't help that the character has been renamed from Smee (an Irishman in the original tale) to Sam Smiegel, and for all the world resembles the sort of 'sneaky Jew' archetype you might have seen on propaganda posters in Central Europe a century ago. Wright's movie mixes late 20th century popular music with early 20th century bigotry.
Narratively, there's nothing to propel the story here, and most of the movie consists of the sort of spectacle-as-sleep-inducer set-pieces you find tacked onto the end of Marvel superhero movies, replete with giant ships floating in the sky. No doubt Warner Bros. were hoping to launch a franchise from this starting point, but I can't see any audience responding to this; it's too camp for adults and too dull for kids. Expect a reboot from Disney sometime in the next decade.



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