July 14, 2024

Film Review: Pan

For the sake of full disclosure, my four year old son is obsessed with Peter Pan. Various versions of Peter Pan are seen, read, played with, or listened to in my house on a daily basis, and on average, I’d say I don a hook hand to face battle with Pan approximately once per week. On any given day, my son will watch any of the following: Disney’s original 1953 animated classic, its direct to DVD sequel, Return to Neverland, Steven Spielberg’s Hook, the 2003 live action film, Peter Pan, the Disney Channel series Jake and the Neverland Pirates, NBC’s recent Peter Pan Live starring Christopher Walken, NBC’s 1960 Peter Pan Live  starring Mary Martin, Broadway’s Peter Pan Live featuring Cathy Rigby, and I’m sure there’s more I’m missing.

I mention this because I was aware going into Pan that my review may not be as objective as I would have liked, although I was not sure if I would go easy on the film due to my son’s interest, or too critical as a result of my familiarity with the story. I believe in the end it was a little of both, so I’m comfortable presenting a review.

Pan is an origin story, telling the story of a young orphan’s (Levi Miller) journey to becoming the legendary Peter Pan. While Pan is an enjoyable adventure film, it is riddled with missteps.  To start, while technically Pan is a prequel, it is set during the London Blitz of World War II, rather than 1904 Victorian London, when the original story takes place. As far as I can tell, the sole reason this decision was made was for one scene, in which a flying pirate ship is engaged in a dog fight over London with WWII fighter planes. While the scene itself is entertaining, and not something seen before on film, I don’t believe its addition to the script justified the change in time period. Victorian London, or at least a romanticized version of it, is the backdrop for many classic science fiction and fantasy works of literature, and its absence from this film is significant. Return to Neverland also takes place during the London Blitz, and a war torn city just isn’t a welcoming setting for a fantasy film.

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Garett Hedlund as James Hook

Next up we have the pre-villainous and American (?!) James Hook, played by Garett Hedlund. Hedlund has a lot of fun with the role, but the problem is that the role isn’t very original. The character borrows HEAVILY from Indiana Jones and Han Solo, the cocky anti-hero who is only out for himself. It should be noted that this is a Peter Pan origin film, not Captain Hook, so we don’t see how this version of Hook  transforms into the Hook that we know (that’s for the sequel, apparently).

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Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily

Another misstep was Hook’s relationship with Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara). This version has the two in a “will they/won’t they” Han and Leia type relationship, which, in addition to being a bit of a leap from the original story (in which we see Captain Hook kidnap the chief’s young daughter to lure Peter), is incredibly predictable and very contrived.

Hook’s eventual right hand man (no pun intended), Smee, plays a significant role early on in the film, and he steals  every scene he’s in. Adeel Akhtar plays Smee as a perfect comic relief, but unfortunately we see very little of him once his character’s purpose is served. Bob Hoskins is probably most associated with the role, paying it in both Hook and the SyFy prequel miniseries, Neverland, but Akhtar really makes the role his own. It’s too bad we didn’t see more of it.

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Adeel Akhtar as Smee

As previously mentioned, the story begins during the London Blitz, and then transitions to a fairy dust mine in Neverland, where Hugh Jackman’s Blackbeard has Peter, and many others, forced into slave labor. The entire first act is a bit dreary. Not quite what you’d expect out of a film about one of the most magical places in literature. Eventually we do get to explore Neverland a bit, but it was a big missed opportunity for the FX team to really stretch their creative wings.

Probably the biggest misstep with Pan is Peter’s origin, which is fairly significant, given that it’s the premise of the film. Not dwelling on the fact that we didn’t actually need an origin story for Peter Pan, the origin presented to us isn’t just borrowed from other stories, but flat out stolen. Peter learns he may be “the chosen one,”  the boy who can fly that is prophesied to return to Neverland and free everyone from Blackbeard’s tyranny. He denies he is the chosen one, and is rather more concerned about finding his mother, thought to still be in Neverland. The most obvious story this references is Harry Potter, although there are many others, including The Matrix , Enders Games, and The Lord of the Rings. There is even more of his origin that borrows heavily from Harry Potter, but I will avoid revealing it, to not give too much of the film away.

Overall, Pan is a well made and enjoyable adventure film, but ultimately it proves to be unoriginal and unnecessary.

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