How Pan found his peo­ple

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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.”

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