Here’s a rather titillating prospect, the opportunity to observe some delightfully daring studio one-upmanship. Whilst Disney trawl through their back catalogue looking for past properties that can be spun on a bigger wheel, sailing through the skies comes Warner Brothers, hoping to beat the House of Mouse at its own game with their interpretation of one of Walt’s most cherished classics. Yet from the moment Joe Wright’s Pan begins, it’s obvious that no amount of pixie dust is going to be enough for this film to fly.
Written by Jason Fuchs, who apparently first conceived many of the film’s ideas when he himself was growing up, this otiose origin story takes us back to a time when Peter Pan was just plain orphan Peter (Levi Miller, charismatic and confident). Having been kidnapped and whisked away to Neverland in a flying pirate ship though, Peter discovers that he is destined to become a great warrior. And, with the help of local Native Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara, effortlessly excellent) and enslaved miner James Hook (Garrett Hedlund, horribly hammy), he sets about trying to save Neverland from the tyrannical rule of Captain Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman, seemingly under the impression that he’s in a completely different movie).
Borrowing various components from both J. M. Barrie’s novel & Disney’s animated original, Wright & Fuchs earnestly endeavor to turn this fairytale into a story of legend. Crocodiles and Mermaids (a wasted Cara Delevingne) both make an appearance. However, they’re so fleeting it feels like they’ve simply been added in and then ticked off a list. Whilst the addition of a McGuffin that involves a prophecy and a link to Peter’s past acts as an attempt to instill a sense of prestige into the narrative, but only serves to add a layer of incohesive and unnecessary complexity.
What’s worse is that the world itself is not well defined. There’s plenty of ideas and a treasure chest of imaginative supplements, but all combine into one disjointed whole: slaves strangely sing Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’; whitewashed Natives bizarrely exploded in a burst of colour when shot; Pirates choose to mark themselves with clown makeup, possibly under the naïve impression that all their enemies are coulrophobics. There’s no heart or humanity to this Neverland, it simply feels like a place of nonsense.
It’s also awfully rendered. The CGI backdrops are bright and initially bedazzling, but lack that crucial, awe-inspiring beauty. And the Never Birds, a creation taken directly from Barrie’s prose, are clunky. The various action sequences, meanwhile, are wearying and weightless rollercoaster rides, which continue on long after you’ve begged them to stop.
Wright’s obviously aiming for the sort of fun & exciting action yarn akin to the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, but with no real wit or charm to speak of, he’s closer in success to the Star Wars prequels. For Wright’s Pan is little more than a generally grotesque illustration of creative overindulgence. It sets its course for the second star to the right, but doesn’t have the fuel to go straight on until morning.
Pan sails into cinemas 16th October 2015.
Director: Joe Wright
Writers: Jason Fuchs, J.M. Barrie (characters)
Stars: Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund
Runtime: 111 mins
Country: USA, UK, Australia