There’s no denying that Joe Wright’s mythology-laden retelling of the Peter Pan story, simply entitled Pan, is rife with problems. But, that isn’t to say it’s without its charms either.
This latest big screen iteration of J. M. Barrie’s classic tale, approaches it as an origin story, depicting Peter’s first trip to Neverland. Abandoned by his mother as a baby, we find Peter as a young orphan in World War II Britain.
In an orphanage that’s run by horrible nuns, who Peter believes are stealing food from the children, our noble hero has a knack for getting into trouble, all in the name of a good deed.
When children start going missing from their beds at night, Peter discovers that they’re being kidnapped by pirates and whisked away to Neverland, to work in a mine under the control of the fearsome Blackbeard.
With the help of fellow captive and future nemesis, James Hook, Peter has to escape Blackbeard’s mines and find the tribal natives in the hopes of finding out his true identity and saving Neverland from Blackbeard’s tyranny.
It’s easy to see why Pan has been critically ‘panned’. When dealing with such classic material, you immediately run the risk of alienating your audience by messing with the narrative. By switching Hook for Blackbeard in the central villain role, and by having such staple characters as Tinkerbell and Tick-Tock the crocodile largely absent for most of the picture, chances are that child and grown-up alike will be left confused and wanting of more traditional fare.
However, one of Pan’s greatest strengths is in fact it’s story, which manages to perfectly combine the old and new, in a fun and colourful way. Yes, this isn’t the Neverland that we’re used to, but Wright’s version of Barrie’s world is weird and wonderful to the point where I cant help but admire his vision.
When we first meet Blackbeard, it’s to the cries of Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit, from child and pirate alike. As he looks down at his followers from his floating pirate ship, Neverland looks like a dystopian future right out of Mad Max. It’s a strange, introductory sequence to Wright’s world, which is different to any other Peter Pan story we’ve ever seen on screen. That’s only a good thing, in my eyes.
Yet, despite all the change – of which there is a lot – Pan somehow manages to maintain the spirit of the source material. In the opening fifteen-minutes, there’s a scene in which the children are being taken to Neverland for the first time. As the pirate ship flies over London, and shortly comes under attack from some British fighter planes, I was immediately settled into the film.
For all of its differences to the Peter Pan story as we know it, it’s still magical and perfect family viewing, which I could see going down a treat over the Christmas period. Despite its contemporary stylings, it’s unashamedly traditional in its storytelling, and has a fantastic finale which, on its own, is worth the ticket price.
A great deal of the film’s success though is all down to the casting. Hugh Jackman is on scenery-chewing top form as Blackbeard, who flits from charming to terrifying in a blink of an eye; but it is Peter Pan himself, newcomer Levi Miller, who steals the show with an endearing performance as the lead hero.
My only issue with Pan is the casting of James Hook, and the character altogether. In what has to be one of the biggest pieces of miscasting that I’ve seen in some time, Hook is played by Garrett Hudland as a rugged, Indiana Jones-type character.
When we first meet Hook, he’s literally covered in dust and wears a fedora in the exact same way everybody’s favourite archeologist does. What’s worse is that by the end of the film, he’s transformed from Indiana Jones to Han Solo; a courageous rouge who enjoys flirting with a princess, and is captain of a flying ship.
Captain Hook is not courageous, nor is he charming and it’s his depiction which is perhaps one step too far in this story. The only silver lining in this respect is that, hopefully, Wright’s future plans for the character will at least be interesting to watch.
Other than Hook though – as well as some dodgy CGI – I honestly couldn’t recommend Pan enough. It certainly has problems, but there’s enough good in it too. It’s lovely, colourful, warmhearted and different. It definitely doesn’t deserve the abuse it’s been getting, but then I did like Hook…
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com