The story of Peter Pan is well know at this time. Through so many incarnations throughout the years, we've all seen the boy in the green suit fly as he and his Lost Boys swashbuckle with Captain Hook, thanks to a little magic from Tinkerbell. We even had the recent live television version starring a seemingly bewildered Christopher Walken as Captain Hook to reinforce the story. So it was that when the newest big screen adaptation was announced, we found that this would be a very different Peter Pan than we knew. Director Joe Wright, known mostly for period piece dramas, was tasked with his first big budget ($150 million) studio picture, telling the story of how young Peter became Pan.
Peter himself, played by young Levi Miller, is an orphan who is taken by the pirate Blackbeard and his crew. Blackbeard, in an over-the-top performance by Hugh Jackman, is in search of fairy dust, or pixum, as well as the key to unlock the secrets of Neverland. Also held captive is a man by the name of James Hook, odd accent and all by Garret Hedlund, the scruffy rogue who sees in Peter his opportunity to escape. There's strange battles, flying pirate ships, and more talk of prophecies than I could possibly handle. But through it all, Hook & Pan make their way in search of freedom and a lost mother, respectively. When Peter is announced as the chosen one who will save the village in Neverland, the skeptical Tigerlilly (Rooney Mara) decides to tag along to see for herself. There's more talk of prophecies and lost mothers, and all the while, Blackbeard is on the chase.
Peter discovers his powers and the strength to fight Blackbeard, and Levi Miller seems to do his best in these moments, but is swallowed up by the enormity of Jackman's performance. Hedlund made the odd choice of using an accent that at times feels like a bad Jack Nicholson impression. The rest of the cast feels as though they have no idea what's going on or what movie they're in. And that is the first major issue with Pan. The story gets so convoluted with secret prophecies and fairy dust but never seems to truly establish what it's setting out to do. Things just seem to happen to the characters.
Secondly, the look of the film was all over the place. At times Dickensian, other times looking like something Terry Gilliam would even call too unrealistic. The film felt like someone had a real fun time filling a sketch book with designs for a make believe world, and they used all of it. The finale takes place in a shapeless, confusing space that has no sense of size or scope.
To go along with the look of everything, the CGI in this film was borderline offensive. It looked like the best CGI 1998 had to offer. There were moments of CGI that made me long for The Rock's Scorpion King cameo in The Mummy Returns. The mermaids that show up midway through look like bad video game graphics. When It wasn't bad CGI, the physical sets looked like sets. I could almost smell the plaster of the "rocky cliffs". With a $150 million budget, this is an inexcusable sin. After recently seeing similar CGI heavy films like The Martian and The Walk, this lack of quality stood out.
There were so many other confusing choices in this film, more than I care to name. But there's annoying little things like the obvious borrowing of Star Wars' character arcs, right down to Hook's Han Solo-esque redemption scene, which drew an audible groan from myself and my viewing partner. There's also the decision to stay away from the classic storyline of Wendy and the kids, as well as anything you knew from the beloved Hook (No Rufio!?), yet the film is not above making obvious winks towards that version. In one exchange with his right hand man, Bishop, Blackbeard asks of the escaped Peter, "Is he lost?" to which Bishop responds "Yes, he is a lost boy". The only thing missing was for them to both look knowingly directly into the camera.
I never felt like I was invested in this story, or that the film itself knew what it wanted to be. Our introduction to Neverland is thousands of kidnapped children singing a rendition of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as Blackbeard bellows above them. I found myself echoing the chorus to that song repeatedly, "I feel stupid. And contagious. Here we are now, Entertain Us!"
Jamison Rabbitt loves the movie Hook & highly recommends watching that over Pan. You can find more from him talking movies on his podcasts @realfilmscast or @mojomonthly or watch him review movies weekly on his show HERE.