When a 12 year-old orphaned boy is spirited away to Neverland, he joins hundreds like him toiling in an abysmal mine for Pixum, the fairy dust Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) covets for its rejuvenating powers. When he finds some, its claimed by another, but when Peter's made to walk the plank for his purported theft, he discovers he can fly. That and the amulet his mother left around his neck mark him as the prophesied chosen one who together with Indian warrior Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara, 2011's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") and adult orphan miner James Hook (Garrett Hedlund, "Unbroken") will lead an uprising to defeat the pirate and forever become known as Peter "Pan."
Screenwriter Jason Fuchs ("Ice Age: Continental Drift") creates a prequel to the J.M. Barrie classic, sprinkling it with insider nods to what is yet to come but British director Joe Wright ("Atonement," "Hanna") has gone bonkers putting it on the screen. A mother (Amanda Seyfried) who clambers over a twelve foot gate unencumbered next seen leaving a baby in a basket on orphanage steps? A pirate who addresses his kidnapped slaves with Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and huffs crystals in his cabin? A Native American princess played by Caucasian Rooney Mara with pink eye makeup? Hook playing at Indiana Jones? And yet even with all these oddities, Wright's film is anchored by his young find Levi Miller and one of Jackman's most inventive performances and is far, far more entertaining overall than that other strange spin on the classic, Spielberg's "Hook."
The film begins with an orphanage right out of 'Oliver Twist,' run by Kathy Burke's ("Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy") mean-spirited grotesque, Mother Barnabas. Set in London during the Blitz, the prequel dated several decades later than the setting of the original story, Peter suspects Barnabas of holding back on rations and sure enough, he and his friend Nibs (Lewis MacDougall) find her underground cache. But they're caught during a bombing and up the skull and crossbones goes, Barnabas's signal to Blackbeard's flying ship. Soon sleeping orphans are being plucked from their beds by bungee jumping pirates before sailing away through an onslaught of firing British de Havilland Mosquitos.
After his first flight in the mines, Pan is jailed next to Hook, who rigs explosives for their escape, made with the assistance of mine supervisor Sam Smiegel (Adeel Akhtar, "Four Lions," "The Dictator"). The trio make their way to tribal territory in a stolen ship where Hook is pitted against warrior Kwahu (Tae-joo Na) on a trampoline (given the heights here, the 3D format is used more for throwing things at us than for any sense of depth which is fine for the occasional joke (a floating hen pops out an egg) but unfortunate given the plank's resemblance to a WTC beam in "The Walk"). When Peter's pan amulet is spotted, though, the strangers are welcomed and together with Tiger Lily, set out to find the hidden fairy land where Peter hopes to find his mother and where Blackbeard will engage them in battle amidst swirling blizzards of CGI fairies (a too tiny to be distinguishable Tinkerbell gets a walk on).
For every beautiful visual, like the three mermaids all portrayed by Cara Delevingne ("Paper Towns"), there's something overdone, like the garish Neverbirds who resemble skeletal marionettes more than a living creature. Wright's decision to make the tribe a collection of all indigenous peoples is more confusing than inclusionary with its Aussie accented Chief (Jack Charles), their village too colorful by half. Yet the costumes by Wright veteran Jacqueline Durran are wonderful, Blackbeard's a spin from Coppola's "Dracula," Tiger Lily's a couture runway interpretation of a National Geographic portrait. The whole movie is like this, a mishmash of ideas run amok (the Ramones' 'Blitzkreig Bop?').
"Pan" feels more like a franchise starter than a straight prequel, with no sense of Peter's eternal childhood and a Hook left with little back story and two intact hands. It ends setting up a further installment, but its eccentricity may doom further adventures.
Robin did not see this film.
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