Pan Film Review: Pirates, Nazis, & Nuns

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Tweetable Takeaway: Pan thrills visually but gets anchored by convoluted plot points.


We finally figured it out. The question that’s been burning every moviegoers’ mind for years is answered. How does Hugh Jackman continue to stay in such good shape as Wolverine? Not only stay in shape, but become bulkier as time goes on. And the answer: Fairy dust. Pan gives us a fairy dust snorting Hugh Jackman that allows him to remain eternally young. Jackman claims to be finished with Wolverine. I say, keep the fairy dust coming and we have nothing to worry about. Pan is the origin story of Peter Pan that’s consistently visually thrilling if not always enthralling in its plot points. If nothing else, the cast commits fully, including the aforementioned Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard.

We find our hero, known only as Peter, in baby form and getting left by his mother at an orphanage. A few years later and we’re in the throes of World War II in London. Peter (blessedly non-annoying child actor Levi Miller) and the rest of the boys find themselves between Oliver Twist and Annie, always on the verge of breaking out in song about their hard-knock lives. A group of nuns are in charge, doling out punishment like candy on Halloween.

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Peter starts to notice orphans going missing, and attempts to investigate. Turns out the head nun is selling the orphan boys to pirates from another dimension. This preceding sentence, even taken within context, has to be the most ridiculous plot point of the year in movies. Yet there’s something so completely compelling that such a situation demands exploration, and is sadly left by the wayside by Pan. We never found out how the nun and the pirates met. What kind of negotiations the two sides went through to agree on giving the boys to the pirates. There’s an entire movie just waiting to be unleashed in that statement, instead we’re left with only our imaginations to fill in the gaps.

In any case, Peter ends up as one of these kidnapped boys. Some WWII bombers attempt to take out the ship, obviously assuming it must be Nazis. Another missed opportunity in this film: Nazis vs. pirates. The ship escapes and after an enchanting sequence in space, the crew and kidnapped boys land on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road. Sorry, that’s just ridiculous. It’s the mining scene from The Rundown. There’s no Christopher Walken, but in just as hammy a fashion, Hugh Jackman’s Blackbeard makes his appearance. The children are told to behave and mine for the chunks of fairy dust, lest they’re forced to walk the plank.

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Blackbeard discovers Peter’s ability to fly, and in his private quarters tells Peter of a prophecy. Any movie that has a speech beginning with an explanation of some sort of prophecy needing to be fulfilled is usually a bad sign. Seeing Pan in its entirety I realized that the prophecy really could have been done without. All it adds is all kinds of convoluted backstory and plotting that dilute the characters’ motivations. There’s all kinds of exposition about Peter being the chosen one that will unite the tribal warriors to overthrow Blackbeard. What’s worse, the movie makes problems for itself with this prophecy.

As soon as Blackbeard finishes telling Peter that it’s likely he’s the boy who will kill Blackbeard, we find Peter alive and well in an unguarded cell. It’s the classic bad guy cliché of not killing the hero (or attempting to) right away. The movie doesn’t even bother giving Blackbeard an explanation for keeping Peter alive. Peter hooks up with fellow miner Hook (Garret Hedlund) and Smiegel (Adeel Akhtar) to escape on a flying ship in another thrilling action sequence.

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The relationship between Hook and Peter drives much of the movie after this juncture. Hook wants to go back to Earth, Peter is convinced he can find his mother in Neverland. Hedlund has all the swagger of a Harrison Ford in his Hook, even the attitude of a Han Solo in sticking around to help Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) fight the evil empire and Darth Blackbeard. All the back and forth with prophecies and deciding if Peter is Neo continues to dilute the emotional core of the film, so when we finally get that catharsis in the climax, it lands with a dull thud. The most satisfying story arc ends up belonging to Hook, of all people, and not Peter, as it should.

Pan misses sticking that landing and suffers for it. Visual feast aside (I could never get sick of aerial pirate ship battles), it’s the story that’s king in any movie. Pan succeeds when it keeps it simple (Hook) and fails when it becomes too convoluted for its own good. By the end, Hook and Peter are not the mortal enemies we know they eventually become, and by the looks of the reception of Pan, it seems we might never know what director Joe Wright and writer Jason Fuchs had in store for the characters. One won’t entirely regret a trip to Neverland by seeing Pan, but one won’t find a movie without its flaws either.

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I give Pan 3 Darth Blackbeards out of 5

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Wil lives, breathes, and loves movies. On applications he will often list the movie theater as his second residence, and the usher as his emergency contact.
Twitter: @TheCantaLoper

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