ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

Peter (Levi Miller) is a young orphan boy raised by nuns who refuses to give up hope that his mother Mary (Amanda Seyfried) will return for him. While WWII rages on during the Blitz, it’s believed by the children that some are being shipped off to Canada to avoid the bombings, but Peter and his best friend Nibs (Lewis MacDougall), much to their surprise, discover that the orphans are in fact being sold to pirates during the middle of the night.

Before long, Peter too is kidnapped and taken to Neverland where he joins countless other child slaves – must be Singapore – in digging up fairy dust for the dastardly Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). However, the garishly costumed pirated leader’s plans are thwarted by Peter’s arrival ’cause he just might be the one prophesied to lead the Natives and Fairies to victory over Blackbeard.

Aided by Native Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) and James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) – yes… that Hook – the heroic orphan fights to fulfill his destiny.

Already been done in Star Wars and Harry Potter, but whatever.

From the Disney animated classic to the Mary Martin led 1954 Broadway production to Steven Spielberg’s under-appreciated Hook (those who claim it’s Spielberg’s worst must’ve missed Always and War of the Worlds) to the 2003 film adaptation to Johnny Depp’s Finding Neverland, J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan has had a solid, decades-long track record of various adaptations.

But like Joe DiMaggio’s famous 56-game hit record, all streaks eventually come to an end, and the one for “the boy who never grew up” ends today with Joe Wright’s Pan.

While being touted as a “prequel” to the Peter Pan story, Pan essentially takes the core of J. M. Barrie’s tale and rearranges certain details and character alliances (namely Capt. Hook and Tiger Lily) in an effort to make it appear unique. It’s an intriguing concept, but the execution falls way short of delivering said promise. For being based on a story widely known for its adventure and imaginative worlds, this movie is punishingly dull. The only thing that stands out within this vapidly manufactured world, aside from Hugh Jackman’s hairpiece borrowed from the set of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is that the pirates of Neverland are big fans of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

I’m not joking. I thought my ears were playing tricks on me, but they’re actually singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (since it’s a family film, the line “a mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido” is nixed).

Why do they sing Nirvana songs? What exactly does “Smells Like Teen Spirit” have to do with the story? Who knows; who cares? But while we’re at it, let’s have them bang out a hip rendition of The Ramones’s “Blitzkrieg Bob” too.

Did Baz Luhrmann hijack the production with his anachronistic bull shit?

Director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, Anna Karenina) may not have the experience in the realm of fantasy as other directors, but I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I mean, how many really thought the directors of the sitcom Community could helm a Captain America sequel that improves on its predecessor? Well, the Russo brothers, Wright is not as he and writer Jason Fuchs rip off plot points from much better films (Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones).

Of course, the copying is the least of the film’s issues. As they say in Swingers, “Everybody steals from everybody.” You can overlook story familiarity if it still delivers (e.g., the Marvel formula, and every great fantasy film that has ever existed); however, Wright rushes through a sloppy string of ugly setpieces that do nothing other than strip the magic completely out of the Peter Pan fairy tale. That childlike sense of joy and wonder that has allowed the story of Neverland to endure multiple generations is gone. The one interesting aspect presented here, the irony of Peter and Hook beginning as friends, is reduced to a stupid “What could possibly go wrong?” wink at the end of the film.

Most surprising is how unexpectedly horrible Hugh Jackman is here. You’d think Jackman’s stage experience would make him perfect for a role that requires a theatrical presence. As much as I really didn’t like 2012’s Les Miserables, Jackman’s commanding performance was easily the best part of that movie, but here his theatrics are all over the place as he finishes each of his sentences IN LOUD, WILDLY ALL-CAPS FASHION!!!!

The good news for Jackman is that Garrett Hedlund gives him good cringe-inducing over-the-top company with his wide-eyed, drunk John Huston take on Hook (also a blatant Han Solo ripoff as it copies basically every character trait including the always reliable deus ex machina return from out of nowhere to conveniently save the backed into a corner hero in the nick of time). Just ’cause it worked for Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, doesn’t mean everyone else can achieve winning results.

Rooney Mara’s casting as the Native princess Tiger Lily has stirred up some “whitewashing” controversy, but she’s actually the only one of three established stars not mugging for the camera like sloshed stage actor (the Natives’ brightly colored community is also one of the rare moments where the production design is put to good use). I’m not sure why her casting’s the first criticism others have been pointing to. Not even Dances with Wolves rain dancing throughout Neverland could save this film.

As for Levi Miller, he deserves no blame. His effort is noticeable, and for this being his big break it’s a solid performance, but it’s only a drop in the bucket when stacked next to the film’s failures. It’s truly a shame that such effort is surrounded by such a God awful mess.

Every once in a long, long while, an inspired spark of magic bursts onto the screen, and God bless him, Levi Miller does try as the title character. Unfortunately, said moments are from enough to offset the rushed, flimsy plot, Jackman and Hedlund’s horribly over-the-top performances and overall lifeless atmosphere. It’s meant to be a $150 million spectacle, but winds up being a massively budgeted disappointment. Never before has one of the most beloved fairy tales of all-time felt so joyless and unpleasant.

I give Pan a D (★).

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