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    Pan (2015): Movie Review

    "An unconvincing origin film of a well-loved fairy tale character.”

    We all known Peter Pan and we all loved his story of exploits and adventures. With Pan, director Joe Wright squeezes the childlike wonder and joy out of the tale to tell a serious and dark origin story. Reimaging a favorite bedtime legend through a different perspective may have worked for 2014’s Maleficent but the formula certainly does not bring magic in Wright’s latest feature.

    The film is set at Lambeth Home for Boys in war-torn London during the worst of the Nazi bombing raids. Left at the orphanage as a baby by his mother (Amanda Seyfried) along with a letter and a pan-pipes medallion, Peter (Levi Miller) grows to be a curious and mischievous boy. Lately, Peter notices strange disappearances happening around the facility and with his best buddy Nibs (Lewis MacDougall), he sneaks into the office of the tyrannical overseer Mother Barnabas (Kathy Burke). Alas, they discover a hoard of silver coins and rations. That night, she raises a black flag above the orphanage and bungee-jumping pirates drop from the sky and kidnap the children, including Peter.

    The pirate squad is lead by the notorious Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). Sailing on an old ship in the sky, Blackbeard and his crew, along with their latest catch, head back to Neverland. They deliver their captives in a mining site where they are forced to dig for pixum or pixie dust, a rare crystalline substance that gives the power of flight and restores youthfulness to those who smoked its powder. For disobedient slaves, Blackbeard makes them walk on a plank and dive into a bedrock. It is not surprising that Peter finds himself pacing on the plank; yet, he takes a slight flight and saves himself from crushing into the ground. Blackbeard recalls the ancient prophecy that a boy with the ability to fly, born of a fairy prince and a human mother, will come someday and defeat him. Worried, he immediately sends Peter to prison.

    A hero soon comes to Peter’s rescue. With his cohort Smee (Adeel Akhtar), James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), a fellow worker in the mines, successfully extracts Peter out of prison and escapes with another flying ship. Their quest leads them to Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), the princess of the Neverland natives who have been spoiling the pirates’ mining expeditions. She enlightens Peter more about his mythical ancestry and with hopes of reuniting with his mother, the boy slowly embraces his destiny and begins to fight off the enemies in Neverland.

    Expectedly, Pan is a visual extravaganza. Its production designs and special effects are overtly exorbitant and high-end. Costumes are vibrant and swanky, CGI are heavy and impressive, and sound system is clear and booming. Its action set pieces are also solidly choreographed, particularly the one involving flapping martial-arts routines on trampolines and the final battle on Jolly Roger.

    However, technical aspects are not enough to summon the necessary suspense and thrill. It takes so much time to set up with still so many unanswered questions at the end. Other than being stripped of dramatic tension, the film also has a limited sense of fun, very disappointing for a tale that should have stirred our childlike dreaminess or inspired playfulness and imagination. Yes, we are taken to Neverland but we spend most of the time exploring its sights, taking in its enormity and majesty, and meeting characters that vanish as quickly as they appear like the colossal crocodile and the mermaids (Cara Delevingne). They just come and go without having ample time to have fun or for the audience to enjoy their presence. Even the air-borne ships become boring after some time, especially that the pirates have no solid story or defining purpose considering that it is an origin film. It is like a quick trip to a nearby park or zoo; merriment just comes in flashes, without leaving a joyful and lasting memory.

    The movie also attempts to strike humor with its soundtracks. Truly, it is amusing when the pirates chorused to Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Ramones’ "Blitzkrieg Bop." But then, it is hard to make sense of these songs’ relation to the pirate’s universe.

    Characters are also a little off than what is known of them. Twelve-year-old Australian child actor and model Miller does well as Peter with his comic timing and adoring personality. Yet, his Peter is not that mischievous as he is too probing about his true identity. Mara is a screen beauty and a talented star but she is undeniably miscast as Tiger Lily. The character is originally a Native American princess and the film fails to make her look like one despite her outrageous garbs. Instead of a single race, the movie also makes her tribe a multi-cultural collection of people but it just does not look right. James Hook is another frustrating character here as he feels more like Indiana Jones with his cowboy looks and playboy appeal. Hedlund is an eye candy but his uneasy cowboy drawl does not sound good. And why is he in playing best friend with Peter? Aren’t they supposed to be enemies? We keep waiting for that moment when something snaps and their really good relationship breaks off. But then that moment never comes even until the film rolls its final credits. There has been no clue or foreshadowing of the man James Hook will become one day. So are we still waiting for another origin story?

    Jackman is almost unrecognizable as Blackbeard with his ghastly makeup and phony conquistador look. Still, he is a funny presence and Jackman once again proves he is a legitimate character actor and a theatre star. 

    Pan is not a convincing origin film. Connections to the characters we already know are not clearly and definitely established. The creators should have fabricated their own characters with this tale instead of attempting to change what we believe which they have miserably failed to do so. 

    Production company: RatPac-Dune Entertainment 
    Cast: Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, Levi Miller, Adeel Akhtar, Kathy Burke, Nonso Anozie, Amanda Seyfried, Jack Charles, Lewis MacDougall, Bronson Webb, Taejoo Na, Cara Delevingne 
    Director: Joe Wright 
    Screenwriter: Jason Fuchs, based on characters introduced by J.M. Barrie 
    Producers: Greg Berlanti, Sarah Schechter, Paul Webster 
    Executive producers: Tim Lewis, Steve Mnuchin 
    Directors of photography: Seamus McGarvey, John Mathieson 
    Production designer: Aline Bonetto 
    Costume designer: Jacqueline Durran 
    Editors: Paul Tothill, William Hoy 
    Music: John Powell 
    Visual effects supervisor: Chas Jarrett


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