"Pan," the well-meaning prequel to "Peter Pan," already has a reputation as one of the biggest critical and commercial flops of the year. Honestly, it's not that bad. The kids at my screening actually seemed to be eating it up. I almost want to give it a good review to somewhat balance out all the scathing reviews I've read. But it wouldn't be fair to do that. The overall product may not be terrible, but there's no getting around certain baffling creative decisions.
Peter (Levi Miller) lives a depressing yet optimistic life in an orphanage until one night when he's abducted by pirates. He's shuttled through time and space (and I mean outer space, he very well might be going to another planet) to Neverland, where he finds himself in the employ of feared pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). Blackbeard puts Peter to work in a mine, where the supervisor is Smee (Adeel Akhtar) and one of his fellow miners is two-handed adult James Hook (Garrett Hedlund).
Peter gets in trouble for a minor offense and survives an execution attempt, which gets him in even more trouble. He, Smee and Hook escape only to find themselves in even more trouble from the island's natives, overseen by Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara). Tiger Lily notices that Peter has The Pan, a pendant given to him by his mother (Amanda Seyfried), that marks him as the tribe's greatest warrior and the person destined to defeat Blackbeard. There's some doubt over whether or not Peter should really have The Pan, and Peter himself doubts that he's really The Chosen One. I don't know what's more aggravating: waiting for Peter to inevitably turn into Peter Pan, or waiting for the resolution of yet another hackneyed "Chosen One" storyline.
The movie does do a few things right. The chipper Levi Miller is everything you want in a Peter Pan. Jackman as Blackbeard shows some early promise that sadly is soon squandered, but I'll count it anyway. Surprisingly, my favorite scenes are the ones in the orphanage, where the mischievous Peter skirts the authority of an overbearing nun (Kathy Burke). The nun, it turns out, has some kind of business deal worked out with the pirates, and I was itching to know more details about their arrangement.
But then there are the things that the movie does wrong, and it does them conspicuously wrong. The special effects range from bad (unconvincing CGI sets and backgrounds) to worse (Jackman's face being swallowed by his makeup) to worst (phony-looking bird puppets you won't believe were approved as a finished product). There are musical performances of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Blitzkrieg Bop" for no fathomable reason. Hook has to fight for his life in a trampoline battle that is supposed to be funny because it's slapstick, but is silly because why a trampoline? Perhaps most distracting of all is Garrett Hedlund's cowboy-inspired Hook voice. There's a line of his in one of the trailers for this film that sounds like it's been badly dubbed-over. Many speculated that it was to avoid a swear word that appears in the actual film, but the truth is that he sounds like that the entire time.
It's frustrating to see "Pan" fail so often when it's clearly aiming to be more than junk food. It's an ambitious film that never feels like it's trying to "cash in" on the Peter Pan name. But one inescapable failure after another adds up to a movie that isn't so much "bad" as it is disappointing.
Two Stars out of Five
"Pan" is rated PG for fantasy action violence, language and thematic material. Its running time is 111 minutes.
Robert Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. He has been a published movie reviewer since 2006. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.