1. It is difficult not to approach Pan with a deep, weary sigh. I am fortunate that people pay me to write about movies, and it’s something that no one should ever take for granted, particularly in this day (year? decade? quarter-century?) of media turmoil. Every assignment is a gift. One of the many, many reasons to admire the late Roger Ebert is that he approached every piece he wrote with equal seriousness, even down to his final days on this earth. The guy could not speak, he was in near-constant pain, he could barely leave his home, he’s staring death in the face, and yet, goddammit, he still got out there and fucking reviewed Battleship. (He gave it a pretty fair shake, all told.) We should all appreciate the opportunities given to us on this planet. I shouldn’t be this exhausted just sitting down to write about Pan. I am ashamed.
2. Maybe it’s just that it’s yet another damn Peter Pan movie. This is the 10th movie about the dude—we pretty much get a new one whenever a copyright expires, which basically makes him Spider-Man—and all told, I think we get the point. He’s a boy that won’t grow up, there’s a guy with a hook trying to stop him, there’s a bunch of orphans looking on, and every once in a while, a crocodile shows up. I know that we live in a world of reboots and sequels and pre-existing properties and brand awareness, so I should be more accepting of this constant rehashing, but seriously: Another Peter freaking Pan? Didn’t the Internet just finish fisking Brian Williams’ daughter doing this on live television awhile ago? Give the guy a break, and give us a break while you’re at it.
3. So, okay: Pan. The gimmick this time, such as it is, is that this is a prequel to the traditional Peter Pan story. Yep: It’s Pan before he was Pan. All prequels now should just come with this infamous interjection, probably at the first pitch meeting:
Pan is like that, except you care about the characters even less than you care about Darth Vader. We meet Peter, an orphan in England during World War II who is whisked off by Neverland pirates, along with several of his fellow fallow-faced young imps. There, they serve Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) as slaves, toiling away for months on end breaking rocks and trying to find the crystallized form of pixie dust, or something. (The kids honor Blackbeard by singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in tribute to him, for reasons I wouldn’t possibly deign to try to understand.) Pan meets Captain Hook (Garrett Hedlund), who is the only adult at the mines for reasons the movie never bothers to explain, and they become friends and ultimately escape together. There, they have to find Peter’s mom, and free all the kids, and hang out with Rooney Mara, and eventually he has to realize he can fly because he’s Peter Pan, and yeah, now that I’m remembering it, yes, Peter Pan can absolutely fly.
4. The movie never really picks a lane. It starts out as a sort of gritty reboot—you see bombs falling on a shelled London—and then becomes a fanciful musical-type thing, and then starts to seem like a PG Mad Max, and then turns into Waterworld. Director Joe Wright, who really should have better things to do than this, never really decides why he’s making a Peter Pan prequel in the first place. Pan never solves, or even really addresses, how the events depicted here shape his fundamental personality, or what that personality even is. It just feels like another Peter Pan movie, and not a particularly inspired one.
The cast doesn’t help. Mara is fine—she escapes dignity intact, which is enough—but Jackman and Hedlund are both brutal. This is another of Hugh’s campy-but-not-in-a-fun-way performances where you wish he’d have just mailed it in rather than made himself look so silly. (See also: Chappie, Butter, Movie 43.) And I’m not quite sure what Hedlund is doing. The Captain Hook role here is meant to be evoke Indiana Jones/Han Solo antihero-type things, but though he’s usually a reliable actor, here he takes it from such a bizarre angle I’m confused why no one told him to stop it. Most notably, he invents an accent so distracting that I spent most of the time trying to figure out who he was trying to mimic. At first I thought it was Scent of a Woman-era Al Pacino, but I finally settled on Larry Flynt. It does not work at all.
5. I’d feel worse panning Pan if the movie put in much effort, but by the end, it’s even selling out its own reason for being. If you’re going to make a movie where Captain Hook and Peter Pan are best friends, it stands to reason that you will come up with some justification for this decision. Will you lay the groundwork for their inevitable breakup? Will we see them in conflict over a girl? Will it be Tinkerbell? Maybe it’s Tinkerbell! But, nope. Once all the matters of the plot are settled and dispatched with, we see a pirate ship fly away, and (spoilers, if you actually care) we hear the following dialogue:
Peter: “We’re going to be friends forever, Hook.”
Hook: “What could possibly go wrong?”
What kind of lazy shit is that? That’s how you nod to the Hook-Pan future? This is like Robert DeNiro’s last scene in The Godfather, Part Two consisting of him saying, “I just hope I never become a crime lord or something!” and winking at the camera. I was feeling guilty about my resignation here, but screw that. You are rewarded with the effort you put forth. Pan deserves no better.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.