Pan movie review: a disaster of fantastically epic proportions

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Pan red light

An embarrassingly empty pastiche of numerous beloved action blockbusters, all frenetic action and soulless mishmashes of fantasy imagery.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

There are pastiches of beloved fantasy action blockbusters, and then there’s Pan, which is a pastiche of every beloved fantasy action blockbuster ever, with a few favorite musicals thrown in for variety, perhaps. Previously actually inventive director Joe Wright (Anna Karenina, Hanna) decided, for reasons unknown, that his best bet for telling a Peter Pan origin story was to toss bits of Return of the Jedi, the Indiana Jones trilogy, Oliver!, Pirates of the Caribbean, Moulin Rouge!, Jurassic Park, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Matrix, and many other films you already love into a blender and hit Crush. Shockingly, this does not translate into a movie to love. Poor Garret Hedlund (Unbroken, Inside Llewyn Davis) as a pre-Captain Hook has been forced to channel Han Solo+Indiana Jones Harrison Ford, which is never anything other than a dreadful reminder of the better movies you could be watching.

Pan isn’t so much a movie, in fact, as it is a showreel for production design, and it’s not much of that either, unless frenetic action and soulless mishmashes of fantasy imagery count. You might wonder how Blackbeard’s (Hugh Jackman [Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Chappie], embarrassing himself) flying pirate ship could find itself in the midst of the London Blitz as he is kidnapping orphan Peter (newcomer Levi Miller), seeing as how J.M. Barrie wrote his original play long before World War II and Peter Pan was already supposed to have been eternally youthful way back then, but never mind: there’s no reason this Peter couldn’t have been a 21st-century boy, because this tale of his adventures in Neverland seeking out his heritage (he’s the son of an otherworldly prince, because what else would he be? *yawn*) has absolutely no grounding in anything real, not historically, and much more importantly when it comes to fantasy, not emotionally. The height of emotional detachment might come during the arrival in Blackbeard’s Neverland fairy-dust mines, where his kidnapped slave boys are belting out “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” No, I don’t know either how this is meant to work.

This is the sort of cinematic humiliation in which what passes for cleverness is this exchange of dialogue: “Is he lost?” / “Yes, he is a Lost Boy”… with the emphasis on the capital letters and the nudge-nudge in your ribs. Screenwriter Jason Fuchs’s only prior major credit is Ice Age: Continental Drift, which is like a 50s sitcom set in prehistoric times, so he is almost certainly as much to blame as Wright for the jumble of Pan’s seen-it, been-there vibe, and its yawning emptiness and lack of anything that might be deemed spirit, fancy, or magic. Pan is a disaster of such epic proportions, in every possible way that it can be a disaster, that it’s difficult to fathom that no one foresaw this in advance. Like, from the moment someone first said, “Kidnapped slave children sing Nirvana!” as if it were a good thing.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Pan for its representation of girls and women.

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Danielm80
Danielm80
Wed, Oct 14, 2015 3:53pm

…Like, from the moment someone first said, “Kidnapped slave children sing Nirvana!” as if it were a good thing.

This review makes me wish the movie were even crazier: Baz Luhrmann’s Peter Pan. Unfortunately, I suspect it’s just a very bad movie. In the commercials, the special effects seem to have been done in Photoshop.

Owen1120
Owen1120
reply to  Danielm80
Wed, Oct 14, 2015 7:56pm

Apparently, they were supposed to sing traditional pirate songs until Wright brought Nirvana to the studio.

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Owen1120
Wed, Oct 14, 2015 8:13pm

I actually think a mishmash of time periods could have worked. It worked in Moulin Rouge and Marie Antoinette and A Knight’s Tale. Or if it didn’t work, it at least made the movies insane enough to be worth watching.

deering24
deering24
reply to  Danielm80
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 1:40pm

Honestly, between this, NBC’s godawful live Pan, and HOOK, one wonders why lately, Hollywood can’t seem to get Neverland right to save its life.

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  deering24
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 7:33pm

Emily Asher-Perrin wrote two terrific articles about Peter Pan.

This one talks about why Pan, and so many other Hollywood blockbusters like it, doesn’t work:

http://www.tor.com/2015/10/13/5-mistakes-that-hollywood-blockbusters-should-stop-making-as-proved-by-pan/?utm_source=exacttarget&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=tordotcom&utm_content=na_readblog_BlogPost&utm_campaign=Tor

And this one explains why some of us still love Peter Pan so much:

http://www.tor.com/2014/12/03/peter-pans-greatest-pretend-is-heroism/

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Danielm80
Fri, Oct 16, 2015 10:07am

Asher-Perrin’s piece is 100 percent spot on.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Danielm80
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 3:58pm

Baz Luhrmann’sPeter Pan

If only…

Tonio Kruger
reply to  Danielm80
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 9:58pm

Well, there are worse Nirvana songs they could have sung.

In fact, one can write a whole list of popular songs — for example, Depeche Mode’s “Master and Servant” — that would have been even worse choices. But I can readily understand why no one would want to go there.

Aaron Jones
Aaron Jones
Wed, Oct 14, 2015 11:16pm

How do things like this get made? This is one of many thoughts I had during the screening I attended. Didn’t someone during pre-production say, “There’s no way this is going to work, and we’re gonna lose a TON of money on it, not to mention confuse the hell out of whomever we think our audience is.”

LA Julian
LA Julian
reply to  Aaron Jones
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 7:11am

I’m pretty sure the answer is the same as io9’s review suggested as explanation for Fantastic Four: they got into the Happy Cocaine again!

RogerBW
RogerBW
reply to  Aaron Jones
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 2:31pm

Abandoning a production half-way through doesn’t save you much money. Going through with the release can at least make you a little bit back.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 3:59pm

Indeed. And this will do okay on DVD, because parents are always looking for electronic babysitters.

Bluejay
Bluejay
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 12:10am

There’s something about this story that seems to bring out the worst instincts in its adapters. (See the Honest Trailers’ take on “Peter Pan” on YouTube for sexism, racism, and creepiness galore.)

Still, I’ve seen ONE good version of Peter-before-Pan: the stage musical Peter and the Starcatcher. They should have made a film version of that instead.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWg7J8n6RmI

LA Julian
LA Julian
reply to  Bluejay
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 7:11am

And Jackman has Broadway credentials! You have to ask why on earth they didn’t adapt THIS version instead?!

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Bluejay
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 11:53am

Barrie’s original story was pretty much filled with sexism, racism, and creepiness. If you leave that out, you’re turning it into a different story. The scenes with the Indians, in particular, would have to be removed or completely rewritten just to make the story bearable. Many classic children’s stories have the same problem, to one degree or another. At some point, anyone adapting them has to ask: How strongly do I really feel about being faithful to the book? Still, I thought P.J. Hogan did a fantastic job of turning the story into a movie back in 2003 (though I haven’t seen it for 12 years).

LA Julian
LA Julian
reply to  Danielm80
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 2:25pm

Well, of course, but a competent writer ought to be able to come up with a way of writing the Native Americans as heroic exiles from our world, come through a portal just like the pirates, fleeing the European conquerors through one of the tunnels-between-worlds that already exist in authentic Native American legends — only to find more of them coming to Neverland in the pirate ship.

Horrible irony, it isn’t a refuge either! The Lost Boys aren’t automatically trustworthy just because they’re against the pirates, any more than the different factions of Europeans who sometimes allied with the Eastern tribes were, but it doesn’t have to be all grimdark, either — there’s room for traditional fantasy beasts like the Ogopogo and weird magic and an actual First Nations fantasy writer like Alina Pete ought to be able to blend everything in a way that would be fun and do it justice.

But noooo, let’s just erase minorities from our stories so we don’t have to think about our ancestors’ mistakes, that’s the “safe” route, the cowardly route that STID and Iron Man 3 took and Pan took and Doctor Strange is taking, whitewashing held up not as racism but as moral virtue which of course backfires every time.

bronxbee
reply to  LA Julian
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 6:00pm

Iron Man 3?

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  bronxbee
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 6:24pm

Iron Man 3 was pretty brilliant, actually. It took an old, racist caricature, a villain called the Mandarin, and used him to comment on stereotypes and the age of terrorism.

I’m not sure what STID is, though.

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  Danielm80
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 6:32pm

Star Trek Into Darkness, referring to the whitewashing of Khan.

deering24
deering24
reply to  Bluejay
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 1:41pm

Oh, hell, _yes_.

Owen1120
Owen1120
reply to  Bluejay
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 8:38pm

The musical was based on an also good book trilogy

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Owen1120
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 9:35pm

There are a lot more than three books in that series.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_and_the_Starcatchers

LA Julian
LA Julian
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 7:10am

As I said on the Where Are The Women post, it could have been even worse! Fuchs not only wrote a cliche-riddled script that blatantly and shamelessly rips off everything, including Disney’s Pocahontas, mugging for the camera through holes punched through the Fourth Wall — not to mention a serious discussion of how a human could get it on with one of Tinkerbell’s relatives so as to make a Magical Prophecy Baby — he wrote one full of sexist cliches AND had Hook sexually assaulting Tiger Lily, played as a hilarious rom-com. The best part of all this bro-dom on display? He’s going to be writing Wonder Woman for Warners next…I’m sure he’ll handle the Amazons just fine!

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  LA Julian
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 4:01pm

Not quite how that scene ends up in the film, but possibly even worse. As you say.

Reena Wani
Mon, Nov 28, 2016 1:12pm

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