|'A mess of weird decisions, unoriginal ideas and poorly thought-out twists on J. M. Barrie's original story'.|
For the first twenty minutes or so of Pan, director Joe Wright arguably gets the tone and execution just right for a perfectly enjoyable family adventure film. The 1940s orphanage in which Peter (Levi Miller) and Nibs (Lewis MacDougall) live is a Dickens-meets-Dahl delight, complete with Kathy Burke's repulsive authoritarian nun Mother Barnabas. The journey from there to Pan's version of Neverland via a flying pirate ship caught in a dogfight with World War II fighter planes also proves enjoyable, ending up as a relative highlight of the film
It's the point at which, as we arrive in Neverland, the entrance of Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) is heralded by both pirates and prisoners chanting Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit that Wright quickly and drastically begins to lose his way. It's an anachronistic choice that jars with what has come before it, and for which the director offers no explanation after its baffling occurrence. Unfortunately, Pan is littered with choices just like this.
From here, Wright's film becomes a mess of weird decisions, unoriginal ideas and poorly thought-out twists on J. M. Barrie's original story. Blackbeard is a prime example: his costume, hair and make-up are bizarre, bearing no resemblance to the historical pirate upon which the character is presumably based. Jackman's performance is also regularly reminiscent of Johnny Depp's in the Pirates Of The Caribbean series, any contemporary swashbuckler's most obvious reference point and therefore one you'd have thought Wright would be keen to avoid.
Neverland itself is a headache of CGI and day-glo whimsy not all that far removed from Hook released nearly a quarter of a century earlier. Scenes set within the natives' camp in particular feel as though they could have been ill-advisedly recovered from the cutting room floor when Spielberg wasn't looking. It's this constant sense that you've seen pretty much everything Wright has to offer done better in the past that undercuts much of the throwaway fun Pan potentially could have offered.
The script fails to offer much more to get excited about, replete as it is with ideas pilfered from other franchises (a prophecy about a magical boy who will overthrow a tyrannical villain - now where have I heard that before?) and plot elements sorely lacking a satisfying level of development. Future pirate head honcho James Hook (Garrett Hedlund, channelling Heath Ledger's Joker via Harrison Ford) spends much of the film striving to leave Neverland without ever giving us much of a reason for wanting to do so. Wright steadily builds the relationship between Hook and Peter alongside this, only to occasionally remember that the two are destined to become mortal enemies, dropping a clunky reminder for us in the unlikely case we've forgotten too.
Where Pan does occasionally get things right is in its action sequences, which are relatively enjoyable and occur just about often enough to keep some of the younger members of the audience interested. It's nowhere near enough to rescue Wright's film, however, which ends up as an awkward and forgettable fantasy adventure that misfires as an extension of Barrie's much-loved children's classic.