**The following is an in-depth review of “Pan” and does contain spoilers.**
"Pan" is a brilliant film if for no other reason than that it includes a scene in which Blackbeard's pirates sing "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The pirates also sing a delightful round of that traditional sea shanty "Blitzkrieg Bop." And with musical taste like that it's really hard not to root for the pirates.
Based on the Peter Pan characters created by British author J.M. Barrie, "Pan" tells the story of how Peter Pan and Captain Hook came to be in Neverland. This isn't exactly an untold story. In 2011 the SyFy Channel aired a two-part miniseries called "Neverland," also chronicling Peter's first adventure in Neverland.
Photo Credit: IMDB
As a baby, Peter was left on the doorstep of an orphanage in London in 1928. The film then jumps ahead 12 years, and the time during the second World War, before the United States got involved. The orphanage is straight out of "Oliver Twist," complete with gruel and abusive nuns. During the London Blitz the orphanage is attacked and several orphans, including Peter, are kidnapped by pirates and taken to Neverland.
Once in Neverland, the orphans are used as slave labor, mining for pixie dust. In the mines, Peter meets a vagrant named James Hook and he soon forms a partnership with him. Peter and Hook - along with Hook's new lackey Smee - escape the mines by stealing a pirate ship and make it to the tribal lands where they meet Princess Tiger Lily.
Peter soon discovers that he is the Chosen One - half human and half fairy - destined to lead the tribes against Blackbeard and his pirates. With the help of Tiger Lily and Hook, Peter learns to embrace his destiny and learns to control his natural ability to fly.
"Pan" currently holds a 22 percent "Rotten" critical rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and that's probably a little harsh. While "Pan" does have its failings, it's also not without its merits.
"Pan" has one of the best uses of the 3D format of any movie in the modern 3D era. It delivers more than just depth, it also incorporates many elements that shoot out of the screen - as 3D should - drawing the audience much more into the action. The best thing the film does with the 3D format is that it uses it in such a way that the 3D enhances one's enjoyment of the film, but if you're not viewing it in 3D it isn't missed.
The acting is sometimes delightfully over the top, especially in the case of Hugh Jackman's Blackbeard and Garrett Hedlund's Hook. The almost cartoonish performances help to enhance the surreal nature of the film's fantasy elements. Levi Miller's Peter, by contrast, is a very much grounded performance and helps to show that that character is not of this fantasy world.
As has become commonplace among modern films, "Pan" makes considerable overuse of computer generated images. While many of the CGI backgrounds and pirate ships look magnificent, the CGI stuntmen - mostly used when Peter is flying - don't quite look photo-real. This is especially maddening in shots that could have easily been better served by hanging Levi Miller from some wires in front of a green screen.
There was some controversy during the production over the casting of caucasian actress Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily. Many believed this was "white washing" of the character who is supposed to be Native American. What seems to escape these critics, however, is that the tribes in the Peter Pan stories aren't Native American. They aren't American at all, they're from Neverland. The tribes in the film were an amalgamation of many tribal cultures, including Native American, tribal African, and even Pacific island tribal cultures. There are actors of many different cultures playing the characters in the tribes. The goal of the filmmakers, presumably, was to create a familiar while still alien and unique culture which would fit with the fantasy world of Neverland, and it does this very well.
One thing that was rather disappointing is that the film never develops the Peter and Hook relationship to what the audience knows is its eventual end. The film ends with Peter and Hook, sailing off together in the Jolly Roger after liberating the "Lost Boys" from the orphanage and taking them to Neverland. Peter makes the prophetic statement that he and Hook will be friends forever, which leaves the audience unsatisfied since we know they are actually destined to become mortal enemies. It's reasonable to assume that the filmmakers meant for this to be only the first act in the complete Peter Pan origin story, which would eventually lead to Hook and Peter being at odds, but with the dismal box office performance of "Pan" so far, we may not get any further films in this series to finish the storyline.
Overall - as a standalone film - "Pan" is fun and is sure to be a delight to family audiences. As a proper prequel to the Peter Pan legend, it falls a little short and leaves the audience unsatisfied. Origin stories are a hard sell to begin with, and stretching the origin story out over multiple films may not prove to have been the best direction to go.
"Pan" is recommended for a fun family night out, just don't expect it to have much substance or lead directly into the Peter Pan legends we all grew up with.
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