Peter Pan is an icon, the terms and names Blackbeard, Tiger Lily, pixie-dust and Neverland have all been engrained in nearly every child's memory. Many have grown up with the boy who could fly and ironically, the boy who never aged. Countless iterations of this character have been told from books to the two most popular films: Disney's animated classic and the live-action version starring the late Robin Williams. In the eyes of a present filmgoer, a remake or retelling of this character may seem unnecessary and a money grab from Hollywood. In the eyes of a cinephile though, it may almost seem insulting. The fact that Hollywood is relying on old, successful stories and characters makes sense but sometimes enough is enough. That's the uphill battle Pan has to fight. So what does Warner Bros do? They bring in talent, massive amount of talent. They bring in Joe Wright (Atonement) to helm the film and world class actors Hugh Jackman and Rooney Mara to play lead characters. In addition they also recruit composer John Powell (How to Train Your Dragon franchise) to make the music and cinematographers John Mathieson (Gladiator) and Seamus McGarvey (Atonement, Godzilla) to take care of the visuals and lighting. On top of all that they bring in screenwriter Jason Fuchs to pen the script, his resume including Ice Age: Continental Drift and not much else...Suddenly, there might be a problem.
And that's where Pan's initial road-bumps begin, with the script. There is so much expositional-dialogue in this film it is almost drowning us with information to simplistically presented. In terms of the writing, this is a KID'S children's movie. It is extremely rudimentary in the finest sense and caters to a very young audience. While there are memorable one-liners here and there, many of these characters serve one purpose and one purpose only, to explain everything to the audience. There's no sense of mystery, and, in fact no sense of originality for more than half of the film. It is predictable and the story progresses in such a way that it makes this film seem useless. We get nothing new from Pan's origins, nothing that we could have, on our own, theorized based on seeing the previous films. Besides the dialogue being nothing but exposition, occasionally it's nearly cringe-worthy. Some of Blackbeard's monologue's are very poorly written and a lot of the exchange between Pan and Tiger Lily and James Hook sounds very scripted. The conversations about prophecies and fate feel very constructed and forced. Then there's the conveniences: characters popping out of nowhere to save the day, characters suddenly knowing more than they should so that other characters get more information, it's all incredibly disappointing.
Apart from the script, unfortunately and somewhat strangely, a lot of the acting just doesn't resonate well. While a large reason of this is due to the screenplay, many of the performances fall really flat, especially Garrett Hedlund's. His portrayal of James Hook never connects and his line delivery is very bland. There is a sense of charisma but it falters all too often and has a very strange sensation to it. Hugh Jackman's portrayal of Blackbeard is so comical that it's hard to take him seriously but there are moments when his villainous portrayal shines (more on that later). Rooney Mara (Tiger Lily) proves that Hollywood still won't push for a diverse cast but her portrayal of the character is one bright light in the film. She actually feels dedicated and connected with the character even though she clearly doesn't belong in the tribe.
But the million dollar question, of course, does Levi Miller succeed in bringing Peter Pan to life (again)? Initially, his performance felt rather sub-par and average, however, upon further contemplation, Miller's performance is one of the only saving graces of this film. Coming out of nowhere, Miller was what Wright considered to be "brilliant". In an interview, he stated that casting for Peter was incredibly strenuous as to no surprise and Miller was one of the last kids who auditioned. Miller certainly has the look, he's a cute kid with a smile and personifications that definitely evoke the Peter Pan we grew up with. But it's going to take a lot more than resembling the character to convince us that he is Peter Pan. Miller has to carry the weight of this entire film on his shoulders and for a first-time actor, that's an incredibly daunting task, not to mention the age he's doing it at. However, the more this film pops up in my mind, the more I'm reminded of how genuinely surprising he was. He does have somewhat of a rough start and definitely overacts in certain scenes but he pulls off the emotional heft of the film and his easily the most charismatic out of everyone on screen. Everyone's performance is enhanced by his, especially Hugh Jackman's. Jackman's scenes lack that "bad-guy" punch, that "sense of darkness". While Blackbeard is given moments to be downright intimidating, it's when he shares scenes with Miller that he shines. Jackman is a talented actor, in fact he's one of the best working today there is absolutely no doubt in that, but based on the script he was provided, this is a very wasted character. Moments when both him and Miller face-off and get into dramatic quarrels are golden. Two scenes in particular really stand out in the film because they feel as if they were written by a different person. What Jackman and Miller are able to pull of in these specific sequences really elevates the entire film, although they're only about two minutes long. These scenes show us the Blackbeard we wanted and it's mainly because of Miller's acting capabilities fused with Jackman's.
As satisfying as Miller's performance is, there's no doubt what really steals the show and that is the visuals and CGI. Pan showcases some truly gorgeous scenery and imagination. Wright proved with Atonement that he had an eye for visuals but Pan takes it to a whole other level. Neverland is beautiful beyond description and the world-building is very impressive. While it's not on a Mad Max: Fury Road or Lord of the Rings level, the images make up for it. There isn't a complexity to it or a believable societal grasp like Mad Max: Fury Road, but aesthetically, it's something that needs to be seen in IMAX 3D. The moment we take off on the Jolly Roger and enter the depths of space, we know that this may be a "style-over-substance" situation and while there are moments that do validate that claim, it's acceptable because Pan is very pleasing to look at. The CGI is incredible too, it's easy to get lost in a world that was created mostly through a computer. The color palette is very unique and the composition of the shots is equally so. However, there are many times that the CGI is so bombarding that it takes away from the entire experience of the film.
Pan is a very clunky film though. It's fantastical but flat, many of the more emotional scenes never really clicking. Miller does great but many of the characters are one-dimensional and the story is so elementary that these scenes carry no weight whatsoever. However, Wright and Fuch's sense of pacing is quite succinct. The film moves rapidly and the journey through Neverland presents well-timed obstacles and story arcs. The action is a spectacle to behold and the choreography, while very CGI, is entertaining to watch. Notable are the Jolly Roger's escape from London and a swashbuckling pirate ship chase with a hint of "Inception". These scenes and many more are the reasons films like this are made for the big screen. The finale does have a sense of danger to it and considering how flat a majority of the film is, it's a breath of relief. Seeing Peter Pan fly is nostalgic but still, this iteration presents nothing new to the table other than its scope and epic scale. John Powell's score is suitable but doesn't transcend the genre like his work in the How to Train Your Dragon films. Miller's portrayal resonates very well and without him holding this film together, it would have been interesting to see where it went. Pan continues the trend of live-action films not living up to their animated counterparts, it has redeeming qualities to be more than just mindless, blockbuster entertainment but not enough to be what it could have been.