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To say “Pan” fails is a bit of an understatement. Between Hugh Jackman’s awful costuming and gross overacting by some of the most ridiculous pirate extras, we need not look far to find easy targets. But what’s most troubling about the latest take on J.M. Barrie’s masterpiece is something far too common for franchise films: the tedium of prequels.
We saw a similar problem in the last “Star Wars” trilogy, waiting and watching as a terrible child actor and a whiny Hayden Christensen progressed down that “dark” path we knew would eventually lead to Darth Vader. Shakespearian tragedy abounds. So when young Peter (Levi Miller) asks his new bro Hook (Garrett Hedlund) if they’ll stay BFFs, we all know the answer before he responds, “Yeah, we’ll always be friends. After all, what could possibly go wrong?”
It’s a clever joke foreshadowing the shape of things to come, but that throwaway line merely reminds us that we shouldn’t get invested. To the film’s credit, “Pan” establishes a fun bond between Peter and Hook without any hints of doom. Sure, Hook looks out for number one, but so did Han Solo, and look how that turned out. Alas, there’s a tick-tock, tick-tock on this bromance, making the problem rather simple: a world where the pair work together is far more interesting than just another battle between the pirates of the Jolly Roger and the Lost Boys.
But we likely won’t see that. This film has no chance of birthing a sequel. It’s that bad. Second, nothing about the story screams originality or courage. Peter has a unique backstory, but it all feels anecdotal, an obligation for what comes next. As for cowardice, there’s no edge. It’s moderately wacky, but unsure if it’s for children or adults.
We’d likely experience more adventures until something goes wrong. That problem Hook can’t foresee: Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara). This “Peter Pan” film concocts a touch of romance between Hook and Tiger Lily, so once that goes south, so too will Hook’s moral judgment. There it is again: a lack of originality.
At this point, let’s pause to discuss how Mara depicts Tiger Lily, an American Indian character. Here, the term “Indian” from the original play disappears in favor of the far simpler “native.” But any semblance of racial sensitivity ends there. After all, many critics have already noted the whitewashed casting here. There’s something very disturbing when she’s the only native character to survive a battle to protect Peter. We haven’t seen this kind of breakdown in common sense since horror films of the 1980s and 1990s often killed off a token minority rather quickly.
It feels like destiny that “Pan” tanks at everything it attempts, but it shouldn’t. Director Joe Wright gave us “Atonement,” a best picture nomination, but what came after lacked the beauty and narrative complexity of what I now assume is a fluke. Maybe using the screenwriter of “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” Jason Fuchs, was a poor choice.
For a brief time, Sean Bean, Hollywood’s favorite actor to kill off, was attached to a “Peter Pan” project where he would play Hook as a police officer working with a do-good outlaw in Pan. That would have been a more advisable direction.
But Warner Bros. Pictures is so hellbent on an origin story no one wanted, featuring evil Captain Blackbeard’s (Jackman) mining operation for pixie dust and the revelation that Peter isn’t simply an orphan but the chosen one. So why is Neverland so poorly designed? With juvenile sequences, dull action and distractingly bad visual effects, the studio didn’t even try to make anyone believe in the magic of filmmaking.
As a BBC series, a “Doctor Who” special event, “Pan” might be more entertaining, something to pass a dull afternoon, much like Syfy’s “Neverland” miniseries. But the standard for films is much higher. On the big screen, everything from the flying pirate ship chase scene to Cara Delevingne as three digitized mermaids looks fake. I can’t even imagine what an HD television will do to this film.
I’m stunned. How could it all be this convoluted? But it’s my own fault. I shouldn’t expect much from a prequel. I miss Harry Potter and the Hogwarts gang. Sadly, all I’m left with is pirates chanting the lyrics to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Yes, that really happened.
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