How Pan found his people
Does the latest spin on the boy who never grew up take flight?
This isn’t film or television’s first attempt to explain how that wee flying chap, Peter Pan, first set foot in Neverland ( the last, by our reckoning, was the Sky miniseries Neverland, with Charlie Rowe in the lead role and Rhys Ifans as Hook). On top of that, there are all the adaptations of Pan’s interactions with Wendy and the Darling family. The popularity of JM Barrie’s alternate- universe tale has been rumbling on quite nicely since it first appeared on stage in 1904, which means that as Joe Wright’s lumbering, self- aware Pan arrives it’s hard not to feel a little... well... bored with the whole thing.
To counteract this inevitable weariness, Wright – working from a script by Jason Fuchs – has injected a major new element into the now somewhat stale tale: Hugh Jackman’s Blackbeard, a pirate obsessed with becoming immortal, with a penchant for long ( mostly amusing) speeches and all the affectations of a wicked witch from a Disney film. When he looks in a mirror, you can almost hear him asking himself, “Who’s the fairest of them all?” Whenever the film’s pacing sags, you find yourself longing for a glimpse of Blackbeard, proving that Jackman was worth whatever money he asked for to play his first panto villain. From the evidence here, he should do a turn on the boards at Weston- super- Mare one Christmas; he’d bring the house down.
Sadly, this leaves the rest of the film rather lacking in oomph. Australian Levi Miller is capable enough as young Peter, although his Cockney accent does tend to wander all over the shop. The film’s opening scenes – which see Peter causing a ruckus in a London orphanage during the Blitz – are notable mainly for the sight of comedian Kathy Burke stomping around as an angry nun, and some glorious touches that remain curiously unexplained, such as an all- female RAF command team with identical hairdos ( hopefully they’ll pop up again if Pan gets a sequel – the film practically screams “Join us for Pan 2!” when it ends).
After this, the action moves to Neverland, as Peter’s kidnapped by pirates and forced to work in Blackbeard’s mines to find fairy dust. The use of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to greet his arrival, yodelled by crowds of singing slaves, has to be Pan’s most audacious moment, turning an ordinary fantasy for kids into a pre- pubescent Mad Max: Fury Road – it’s genuinely mindboggling. But nothing quite lives up to this scene, and the rest of the film, while visually stunning ( galleons sailing through the air; giant caves of crystal; killer mega- birds made from feathers and skeletons; an absolutely bloody enormous crocodile) soon descends into a formulaic chase flick that relies way too heavily on some poorly- realised characters.
The biggest misfire is probably Garrett Hedlund as a young, not- yet- a- baddie, two- handed James Hook – only he seems to be playing Han Solo, who somewhere along the way has also been crossed with Brendan Fraser in
One or two moments recapture that original magic
The Mummy, and then crossed once more with the Marlboro Man ( minus cigarettes). While Peter’s accent might wobble, Hook’s American drawl is so overenunciated and strident that he sounds as though he’s playing a parody of a Yank – and given that Hedlund’s actually from Minnesota, this is rather puzzling. The other downside of Hook is his ill- advised flirtation with Tiger Lily, a romantic subtext that’s not only a bit creepy given his oily attempts at flirting, but also disappointing... as is Tiger Lily herself.
Much has been written about the casting of Rooney Mara as a character who, if you use Barrie’s books as a guide, should have Native American attributes. And yes, while Tiger Lily’s tribe here is pleasingly racially diverse, she’s emphatically not. Her people are repeatedly referred to as “savages” by Blackbeard, but Tiger Lily looks as though she’s just been shopping in Chelsea and used a little too much red eyeshadow that morning. The biggest crime, though, is that Mara looks so unrelentingly bored during the entire film, particularly in her fight scenes ( you suspect even Kathy Burke’s nun might’ve given those fights more energy). What a shame she’s so horrendously out of place here.
So Pan does have its problems. But, while we may be a little weary of Peter Pan in general these days, there are one or two moments here which successfully recapture that original magic and deliver it to a younger, less jaded audience. These, at least, make it well worth a watch. Jayne Nelson
You should see the giant arse he has at the back of the ship.
“Hmmm. It’s either a map or a crusty old bedsheet.”