Film review: Joe Wright remixes Neverland lore in misguided prequel Pan
Peter, an orphan in London during the Blitz, is friends with Captain Hook in this misfiring version
J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan has gone from being a classic of children’s literature to a staple at the cinemas. From the 1953 Disney cartoon to Steven Spielberg’s Hook to P.J. Hogan’s 2003 movie, the boy who never grew up is the perfect silver screen mischief-maker. But rarely has a film mixed with mythology as much as Joe Wright’s Pan.
The British director, whose career has been built on literary adaptations (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, Anna Karenina), has created what is, in Hollywood parlance, a prequel. Here Peter is an orphaned 12-year-old (Australian newcomer Levi Miller) living in war-torn London during the Blitz, kidnapped from his bed at night (by pirates on bungee ropes) and spirited away to the magical Neverland.
Captives are put to work mining for Pixum, a substance that restores youth, for the fearsome Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman, camping it up). Peter soon meets Captain Hook (Garrett Hedlund) – long before he loses his hand to the crocodile and became Peter’s nemesis – and plots to escape this servitude.
Wright and screenwriter Jason Fuchs makes too many decisions that backfire: casting white actress Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily, the Native American princess Peter rescues in the original story, for one. Having Blackbeard and his slaves sing incongruous songs – notably Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit – is baffling. And painting Neverland in such drab colours, with a story that revolves around child labour, is hardly a blueprint for a fun-packed movie.
Amid all this, however, Wright has unearthed a gem in Levi Miller, who is superb as Peter, the wide-eyed innocent who learns to fly. Imagine what he would’ve done with the role in a more traditional retelling of Barrie’s story. Sadly, through no fault of his, Pan will swiftly be forgotten.
Pan opens on Oct 8