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"PAN"
(2015) (Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Fantasy: Peter Pan's origin story is re-imagined, with the title character featured as a 12-year-old orphan in World War II London, who is kidnapped by pirates and whisked away to Neverland.
PLOT:
Peter (LEVI MILLER) is a 12-year-old orphan, whose mother, Mary (AMANDA SEYFRIED) abandoned him when he was just a baby. It is now World War II London, and the orphanage is under seemingly constant threat of Nazi air raids. Peter and his friend, Nibs (LEWIS MacDOUGALL), are under constant threat of the strict, stern Mother Barnabas (KATHY BURKE). We learn that she and the other nuns have been selling orphans to pirates, who come in the middle of the night, snatch the young boys out of their beds, and spirit them off to a fantastical place called Neverland.

Peter is snatched one fateful night, and he soon finds himself enslaved to the infamous Blackbeard (HUGH JACKMAN). The ruthless pirate leader has set up a massive operation to mine for Pixium, a glowing substance hidden by fairies that stops the effects of aging when ground into dust and snorted. Peter believes his mother may be in Neverland and enlists the aid of a fellow slave, the roguish James Hook (GARRETT HEDLUND), and a shifty mine supervisor named Smee (ADEEL AKHTAR) to escape.

Once free, they are taken prisoner by the "natives" of Neverland led by the warrior princess Tiger Lily (ROONEY MARA). In their camp, Peter learns that he is the offspring of a fairy prince and a human woman and could very well be the prophesized Chosen One who will rise up and defeat Blackbeard and restore peace and freedom to Neverland. But Blackbeard is hot on his trail and eager to find the fairies' secret kingdom where there is reportedly a massive supply of Pixium for the taking.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
My very first thought when the lights came up and my recent preview screening of "Pan" was over was "Wow, they really pumped a lot of bucks into Peter Pan!" And it's true. This latest take on the J.M. Barrie legend features state-of-the-art special effects; vast, impressive sets; loads of imaginative pirate costumes, wigs, and cool prop weaponry. And the film is pirate-ship anchored by a legitimate movie star in Hugh Jackman as the villainous Blackbeard.

But, for my money and in my book, the film has one absolutely killing flaw that really and truly marred the experience for me. And it's a big one, folks, one that I can't quite forgive. One that makes me go "Arrrrrrr! every time I think about it.

Directed by Joe Wright, "Pan" attempts to tell Peter's origin story. Historically, the most famous and commonly staged versions of "Peter Pan" have actually been as much or more about the Wendy Darling character as Peter. Here, Wright and screenwriter Jason Fuchs attempt to flesh out Peter's back-story. They re-imagine him as a 12-year-old orphan (Levi Miller) in World War II London, whose mother (Amanda Seyfried) dropped him off on the doorstep of nuns while evading an unseen, possibly otherworldly menace.

As it turns out, the real screen villains here end up being representatives of the Catholic Church, led by the wicked Mother Barnabas (Kathy Burke), who sell for profit the older and most unwanted orphans to pirates who fly in from the night's sky to abduct the kids right from their beds. Mother Barnabas and her nuns also horde war rations, hide their personal belongings, and physically abuse the various orphans with rulers and wooden paddles. Fortunately, Pope Francis just missed this premiere invite, huh?

At any rate, Peter is among the latest batch of orphans sold into bondage. He arrives in Neverland and discovers it ruled by Blackbeard, who forces him and the other youngsters to dig in mines for a substance known as Pixium. Hidden in the rock by fairies, the Pixium can be ground up into dust and made to be ingested (snorted actually) to maintain one's youthful appearance. Blackbeard wants it all, and he's willing to conquer all of Neverland to get it.

Peter, though, comes in contact with a jaded, cynical former orphan who has been in the mines for years and years. His name is James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), and the two become fast friends and mount an escape attempt with the help of work supervisor Smee (Adeel Akhtar). The three eventually come into contact with the warrior princess Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) and her band of rebel natives. In their village, Peter comes to suspect that he might be "The Chosen One," the offspring of a fairy prince and human woman who will one day lead the great revolt.

OK, so it's not the Peter Pan you grew up with. But then again, everyone from Batman to Captain Kirk to James Bond has been scrambled up, re-imagined, and reinvented over the years to varying degrees of acceptance and success. The problem here is, the re-imagining throws out the REALLY good stuff that has made Peter Pan and "Peter Pan" work SO well over the decades. This is an origin story, so we are meant to believe that these characters will eventually become the characters of the legend, right? Well, as presented on screen for these two hours, this Peter and this Hook in NO way come to even remotely resemble the characters we know from legend and fairy tale and umpteen other productions. Peter as a sensitive, selfless, self-doubting boy who yearns to know his mother? That's not Peter Pan. Pan is a cocky, careless, boastful adventurer. And one of his chief driving motivators is his unwillingness to grow up.

"Pan" does instill those qualities in this Peter. By the end of this movie, he should be reckless and a bit of a jerky, smart-aleck kid. He should have come into contact with characters who MAKE him this way. But his experiences among brutalized kids, evil nuns, crooked pirates, and brave natives only make him into a bland "Chosen One" archetype we've seen in umpteen other films. The original origin is simply better.

But at least little Miller acts the role well, and at least he is not portrayed by a small, adult woman. I did like him as the title character and felt he could have nailed whatever any screenplay threw his way. Now, here is the really, REALLY killing flaw of the picture. Garrett Hedlund as Hook! First of all, why is Hook named Hook way before Peter cuts off his hand? Hook should get his name at the end of this flick after he tangles with Peter in a swordfight.

But guess what? They never tangle! Mild spoiler alert. They stay friends and allies right to the end of this flick! There is nothing -- NOTHING! -- in this movie to lead you believe that Hedlund's Hook will ever become THE Captain Hook. The only thing that is pirated here are Harrison Ford's two great roles. Hedlund plays the part more as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer right down to the costume. And his banter with Mara's Tiger Lily is straight out of Han-Leia 101, with such familiar beats as Hook refusing then reluctantly opting to join her rebellion, his eventual exit from the film for selfish reasons, and his swooping in re-appearance during the climax to save the younger Chosen One hero who Tiger Lily has come to think of as a little brother.

Again, Wright and Fuchs seem to have forgotten they were making an origin story here, re-imagined or otherwise. There at least needed to be the possibility of betrayal of Peter here by Hook. It's touched upon briefly at one point when Smee suggests ransoming the boy back to Blackbeard. But it's never followed up on. Hook needed to have more shading. He needed to have an admiration for Blackbeard on some level. And, by the end, he had to take Blackbeard's ship from him and claim it as his own ... even if taking it meant it was a heroic or anti-heroic act to help Peter. And he needed to also be affected by the passage of time, the threat of aging, the poisonous admiration of youth. There is NONE of that in this script.

Honestly, I don't know why they just didn't make Jackman's Blackbeard Captain Hook. He basically has a lot of physical similarities to the classic villain, as well as some of the motivations he's displayed in the various versions of the "Peter Pan" story. It would have been an easy fix that made the whole film better. As such, "Pan" is fantastic to look at (albeit through darkened 3-D glasses in many North American theaters). I particularly enjoyed an early sequence where Blackbeard's pirate ship is chased across the skies of WWII London by British fighter planes of the era. But it's all surface thrills and computer-generated spectacle. What's missing is the magic, and that's a shame. I give it a 4 out of 10 (T. Durgin)




Reviewed October 3, 2015 / Posted October 9, 2015


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