Pan isn’t without its interesting moments or notions. Unfortunately, those come at the very beginning, where we see Peter’s life in an orphanage after being dropped off by his sorrowful mother, Mary (Amanda Seyfried) twelve years earlier. Aside: Did they really mean for a single mother who reportedly underwent a magical birth to be named Mary? There are definitely more Christian metaphors that Pan houses in its kid-adventure clothing, so I’ll answer yes to that one. Hey, wasn’t The Matrix also a movie with heavy Christian metaphors?
Back to the interesting: Peter and his fellow orphan Nibs (Lewis MacDougall) share space in the bunkhouse, where it seems orphans are disappearing at an alarming rate. Also, as this opening sequence takes place during the London Blitz of World War II, the orphans are subsisting on soup, while Mother Barnabas (Kathy Burke), the head of the orphanage, remains fat and fed. This part of the film contains the most genuine fun you’ll have for the whole movie, as we see Peter and Nibs go sleuthing for answers, finding a massively hoarded stash of stuff, and also getting more than they hoped to when they break into the records room: a letter from Mary which Peter has never seen, but will be crucial to the film’s plot.
After being found by Mother Barnabas, the film takes us from WWII-era London to Neverland, where we are greeted with mine workers chanting the chorus and second verse of a very familiar 1991 song, which brings us out of the fantasy world with such a screeching halt, the viewer is thrown completely out of the movie. Pan doesn’t recover from this abrupt shift; instead, it turns into a by-the-numbers self-esteem children’s piece. It doesn’t help matters when we find Peter’s first friend to be James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), who’s first seen giving Peter advice on surviving the mine.
Hedlund plays Hook as a raving lunatic control freak, growling and preening with a very uncomfortable, off-putting energy. Eyes ablaze with some kind of inner fury and dental appliances making his mouth exaggeratedly huge, Hedlund does his best impression of Gary Busey mixed with Eric Bana from the 2009 Star Trek reboot. (There’s another cinematic character I’m reminded of with Hedlund’s performance, but it’s slipping my mind right now. I will surely add it to this review if I remember.) Regardless, I’ve never wanted anyone to be off the screen as much as this iteration of Hook, who’s corny, loud, arrogant, and annoying.
Alternately, I barely recognized Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard, Peter’s bête noire. Honestly, I thought they were giving big roles to Adrien Brody again (and why not? I like Brody’s work) and was quite surprised to see Jackman’s name at the start of the credits. Aided by makeup, prostheses, and a more guttural voice than I’m used to, Jackman uses his screen time to terrify Peter and ooze a seductive evil vibe, slickly changing tones between being a rockstar pirate and crazed hunter with a dark secret.
However, I’ve never seen more effort in trying to make an audience swallow what screenwriter Jason Fuchs wants you to swallow. References to J.M. Barrie’s characters or plotlines are treated with a bit of a “nyuk-nyuk”-style elbow jab, dropped in ham-handedly and left to hang there. His revisionist take on Peter Pan and James Hook – where “enemies start out as friends and friends start out as enemies,” as Mara’s opening narration forewarns us – leaves no room for subtext or nuance, not content to push its points to the audience with any subtlety or grace.
Instead, Peter’s disbelief in himself is rammed down our throats repeatedly in an effort to REALLY MAKE SURE WE GET IT. While Pan is visually stunning and worth its 3D upcharge – the final scenes in the Fairy Kingdom will astound you – it spends way too much time repeating itself, eventually giving way to conventional feel-good cop-outs. Its key sin is trying to be too clever without being fundamentally good, embracing cliché instead of inspiration.