No matter how old and decadent a franchise is; chances are if there is a way to bring new life into them so a new franchise can be born out of it and become the next “Avengers” or “Harry Potter” or “Hunger Games”, then someone is damn well going to do it. Peter Pan has always been a whimsical tale of tasteless boredom for me; I never saw the big deal people made out of it and I never understood how it’s been around as long as it has. Even the Disney cartoon version of it wasn’t THAT big of a deal to me. Still, Joe Wright for some reason decided that Peter Pan needed to make a colossal comeback and he figured the only thing that hasn’t already been done with the character is to weave an origin story; so he decided to make one and simply call it “Pan.” I’d probably ask if we really need a new Pan film or an origin one, but we all know we don’t need either so why not just sit back and watch where this flying pirate ship will take us.
Before he became the legend, Peter (Levi Miller) was a 12 year old orphan who lived in an abusive orphanage, until his life was changed when he was abducted by a flying pirate ship and taken to Neverland; ruled ruthlessly by the pirate lord Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). After learning his arrival was prophesized by Blackbeard as the one who would ultimately kill him, Pan flees with the help of James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and seeks out the tribal princess Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara). Now Pan must face his destiny as a legend in training and discover the truth about his past and ultimately; his future as the one and only Peter Pan. One thing I’m grateful for is the decision to take this film in a more adventurous, family fun kind of tone rather than making it a dark and gritty reboot that everyone else seems to be using these days. “Pan” is all about fantasy adventure, it’s like “Harry Potter” with “Pirates of the Caribbean” mixed into it.
The story gives us different new takes on popular characters we’ve known for years, we know how they’re supposed to end up and turn out but we’ve never seen the likes of Pan and Hook in a way “Pan” portrays them. It’s like were REALLY meeting these legends for the first time. Pan is given a sort of messiah plot device and it does admittedly run into a few cliché potholes as viewing the character as a legendary savior doesn’t allow him to develop or come off as anyone else other than what we already know he will become. Still, I like the idea of seeing Peter being a scared, unsure; even sometimes selfish person who is willing to jump into death’s jaws as long as he finds out about his family and caring little about who he is supposed to be. It also gives his flying powers a sense of purpose and meaningfulness; we get an idea of why he has them and how it fits into Neverland and even why he was in “our world” in the first place.
“Pan” has a style all its own; all the pirates have distinct costumes and designs, the tribesmen have a specific way in which they move, jump and fight, even the gun powder the pirates use is mixed with bright colors. Levi Miller was a great and fitting choice for Pan, kid actors usually suck something fierce and you can’t really fault them BECAUSE they’re kids; but I actually liked this Pan, I wanted to see how he’d take this turn or how he’d react to this and that. Jackman is damn near unrecognizable as Blackbeard, his performance is leaps and bounds louder and livelier than everyone else; but that doesn’t make him any less impressive or his performance any less commendable as this pirate villain. Speaking of pirate villains, Hedlund as James Hook was quite a character. He’s completely different than any Hook we’ve ever seen and when you see him, you find it impossible this could be the same Hook…and I like that.
The film wisely sneaks in fun little references here and there, most of which are subtle and well handled, while others are clearly left unresolved until a hopeful sequel is greenlit. Sadly based on the film’s box office return, it seems unlikely one will ever come up and it’s a shame because I genuinely liked these characters enough to want to see HOW they end up becoming enemies and handless. I can’t say the film was too ambitious with its inklings towards a planned trilogy, it wasn’t too wrapped up in planting Easter eggs to the point they sacrificed their characters and story (unlike “Amazing Spider-man 2”). While this movie is fun, well cast and rich with entertaining values, it’s not so great that it truly warrants it’s overly expensive price tag; at least if we were judging a film’s quality by its budget…which I’m not. The only problem “Pan” suffers from is it relies too much on its target audience and hopeful “Peter Pan fans” interest in a revival to do most of the lifting work to carry this film into the mega profit margins.
The fun is there, the casting is there (minus an unfortunately white washed Tiger Lily) and the potential and groundwork is all there; ready and willing to show us how these characters eventually become the legendary enemies and icons of their famous fabled story. The interest however isn’t there and is nowhere near sufficient enough to bring a sequel onboard, which is a shame because I enjoyed this enough that I want more “Pan” and genuinely think the story they had been preparing in the sequel would have been worth the budget. Overall, “Pan” is a revival/origin story that came out at the wrong time; foolishly assuming this was the right time. It sets its heights too high and a price tag just as painfully out of reach. However, I think the cast did a much better job than I expected; I care about these characters and I really do care enough to see where this journey could have gone to had they been able to continue. It’s a straight up, fun, fantasy adventure film that really could have used a bit more happy thoughts lifting it up; besides my own.