Because everything needs a prequel or a re-boot now, why not do it with Peter Pan? In all honesty I was actually kind of looking forward to this film this year because we haven’t had a live action Peter Pan film for quite a while and putting this film out there would mean that TV channels will re-run Hook again and that is one of my favourite Robin Williams’ performances. I was prepared to see this film when it was supposed to come out in the Summer then at the last minute it got pushed back to an October release, likely because Warner Bros were fearing competition from films like Jurassic World, Inside Out and Ant Man which were due out at the same time and be able to take advantage of a similar market. I know that sounds cynical, but I have heard of studios delaying films for even more stupid reasons and it felt very much like a similar parallel to last years Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which I reviewed for the site which was also a Summer blockbuster that changed it’s release date to half term in October in order to avoid competition and I think everyone who has read my review of this film last year know my thoughts on that waste of time!!
Nevertheless I had my tickets and I chose to see it upon it’s actual release. This film did receive several preview screenings in select Cinema’s but I wasn’t able to attend them for reasons of reviewing Dragon Ball Z and The Walk as well as catching up with films that came out while I was away on holiday, which meant unlike I usually do for these reviews, I heard some critical feedback from this film because it was almost impossible to avoid and the critics were savaging this one. However, I did go into this film with a completely open mind and I have been disagreeing with the critics at certain points of the year. Unfortunately, this is not going to be the case this time, I am definitely agreeing with the critics, but stay with me, I will state my case!
The story of this prequel is that 12 year old orphan Peter (played by Levi Miller) is captured along with several other orphans and taken to Neverland by pirate Blackbeard (played by Hugh Jackman) in order to mine out fairy dust after Blackbeard’s campaign destroyed all the fairies. He, however charters an escape with Hook (played by Garrett Hedlund) and challenges him to meet up with the natives who are charging a rebellion against Blackbeard led by Tiger Lily (played by Rooney Mara). It’s up to Peter to prove that he is the chosen one in their legend and to once again become the champion of the fairy kingdom, which may not necessarily be as gone as we first thought. As you can tell from that plot synopsis Pan is really not original in any way, shape or form, but that wouldn’t be too bad because it is based on a prior source material which I won’t claim to have read anything of, but this really fails! There are two things that are very clear from watching Pan, 1, it’s meant to be a franchise starter and 2, the writers are clearly trying to turn Peter Pan into an epic, which it really isn’t. Peter Pan is really meant to be a fun, swashbuckling adventure and it doesn’t ever really feel like that. I drew a lot of parallels to this with Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland because they feel very similar in a sense of both films take a relatively simple and easy to tell source material and over complicate it to absurd degrees! Who’s watching Peter Pan thinking we need stories or warring tribes, the chosen one’s prophecies and an all out war for the fate of Neverland, it just doesn’t fit at all. In fact nothing in this fits at all.
The film starts out absurdly with Peter dealing with an evil Nun called Mother Barnabas played by Kathy Burke who is so ridiculous you would swear she is just basically an evil version of Brendan O’Carroll’s Mrs Brown. She is absolutely ridiculous, this is the sort of thing you wouldn’t be able to get away with in the 90’s because it would have been considered a cliche then. It’s 2015, not to mention it doesn’t really help the fact that this film takes place during World War 2, a setting that was already used in the Disney sequel Return to Neverland and was used a lot more effectively then. It kind of screws up your hopes of a sequel which would be more faithful to the original book if the prequel is already taking place before the time period that the book takes place in. (again, I’m making assumptions there, I haven’t actually read the book, but from what I can gather the book takes place before World War 2). You can usually tell when a film sinks and it’s normally at the middle point of the film, I knew this film was doomed from the middle of the first act, when all the people in Blackbeard’s mine, a part that has been shown in the trailer constantly, all started singing Nirvanah’s, Smells Like Teen Spirit, why? The song is completely out of place, feels really weirdly put in there and we are never given a reason for it, with the villains forcing people to sing this, you completely take any threatening nature that they possibly have out of it and later they do the Ramones Blitzkrieg Bop during an execution scene, WHY? Both of these songs are about disenfranchised youth of their individual periods, but this isn’t even of the period that the film takes place in, these songs won’t be written for decades. Was this for the parents who are bought along to watch this because they are all going to be like me and putting their palms on their heads as soon they hear this!! Now the villains not being threatening would have been fine, if they could have been fopish and comedic like the Disney version and to a certain extent Hook, but they don’t even manage that. They try to be both threatening and comedic but they don’t manage to achieve either, they just hit some weird middle ground that just doesn’t really work. In fact Blackbeard being the villain is really absurd because he acts just like an additional Captain Hook, you could have literally just called him Captain Hook and it would have made no difference. He acts and behaves just exactly the same, in fact he behaves more like Captain Hook than the actual Captain Hook! These characters are all completely different to what they would be in any other adaptation. The only ones that come out even remotely close to their original characters are Smiegel played by Adeel Akhtar and Tiger Lily, but while she is mostly as we would expect the character to be, the script does fail her on quite a few occasions and I think this is down to the fact that three of the four roles that are heavily promoted are horrible miscasts, but I will get on to that later. Hugh Jackman’s Blackbeard is a really weird design, for some reason this year Hugh Jackman feels the need to castoff his typecasting and play villains like he did in the previously released Chappie which came out all the way back in March of this year and like that one he really doesn’t make a good villain. I really don’t know who is giving Hugh Jackman the advice to play villains, but he is not very good at it. Go back to being Wolverine, we all liked you then. When your best moment of 2015 is your short audio cameo in Me Earl and the Dying Girl you know you haven’t had a good year!! The design of the character is just ridiculous, they make him wear this really fake looking wig that constantly gets knocked off and he also has a terrible moustache and beard that also look really fake, they are meant to be real in the context of the story! What’s more blatant is he’s not fleshed out at all, we are never given much of a clue about why he wants to exterminate the fairies or take their powers, or whatever he wants to do, I don’t know, they don’t even explain that! They give some hints that it’s for him to rejuvenate himself, but they never really go into much detail about it. Hook is also really not in character and his inclusion as an ally to Peter in the film really doesn’t work and it’s a major trait of what I like to call the prequel traps. These are things that prequels use when they think they are being clever when actually they are just messing us around until they actually get to the point where we are at the first film. We know that Hook and Peter are going to become enemies and if he doesn’t betray him by the end of the first film he is going to do it in the upcoming sequel so it just feels really pointless. Mind you we don’t see anything of what we would expect of Hook in this incarnation and I think Garrett Hedlund even realises it, he doesn’t even get anything really fun to do this time, he is just sort of there. Then there’s Peter himself. This is a Peter that has clearly been bitten by the modern troubled hero virus. This has got to be the first Peter Pan film where he hardly smiles, granted he is looking for his mother throughout Neverland so there is more of a personal reason for Peter to be involved with this film, but there is nothing of the fun loving nature that the character can bring. Not even addressing the whole ‘you never have to grow up in Neverland. It is never addressed and I am not joking, there is not one reference to it in the film!! You would have felt one of the most important parts of the original story would have made it into the film, but NO, it is never addressed! And there is virtually no character development at all throughout. What’s more Neverland is not fleshed out enough either, which would have been fine in a traditional Peter Pan story, but they are aiming for this to be an Epic and you can’t have things be this vague in an Epic! Who wrote this prophecy, why are the warring tribes. The explanations they give are at best are vague and at worst non existent and is especially confusing considering there are people of various ages all wondering around Neverland, again this wouldn’t have been an issue in a traditional Peter Pan story, but this one is aiming to be quote on quote ‘a bigger story’! What astounds me though about Pan is that for a film with so many set pieces and cool locations and believe me there are some amazing designs in this film, it all felt so boring. The film feels very lazily written. It just feels like they are laying down the groundwork for a traditional family adventure film without anything to separate it apart. It doesn’t even feel like it related much to the Peter Pan mythos. There are only a few things that occasionally will turn up to remind you this is supposed to be a Peter Pan story. If someone told me that this was a film that wasn’t going to be commissioned until the end of Peter Pan licence, it wouldn’t surprise me. It’s just really really dull and there was nothing really keeping me invested. There were several moments that were meant to be heavily emotional, but I was so bored with these characters, I felt nothing for them. I really wanted to because there is actually some decent talent working on this film, particularly the fact that the film is directed by Joe Wright who previously directed The Atonement adaptation and this film again feels very similar to his adaptation of Anna Karenina in a sense of it looks really good but there are a lot of issues with the substance when you get below the amazing designs. However this film is much worse than his Anna Karenina adaptation and I think the most baffling thing about it is, the fact that I get a sense that this feels more like Warner Bros trying to capitalise on a new franchise, but I suspect that this one won’t do too well at the Box Office and probably won’t warrant any sequels.
As for the Actors, they’re not great. Hugh Jackman really doesn’t find his villain in this film and he really isn’t that great at it, but I won’t go into too much detail. Garrett Hedlund is horribly miscast in a bland role that does absolutely nothing for him and he looks unbelievably bored throughout most of this film. I did enjoy Adeel Akhtar as Sam Smiegel even though his constant side changing throughout the film did get rather annoying and Rooney Mara drove in a decent performance as Tiger Lily even if she is slightly miscast (and not just in the fact that it’s white actress in the part). Most of the supporting cast are actually fairly decent, even though they are barely given enough to do, but again I think most of these problems are script issues. I have already given my thoughts on Kathy Burke, but nowhere is that more apparent than with Levi Miller as Peter Pan. Let me make one thing clear, Levi Miller does not give too bad a performance, I actually think he would make a very good Peter Pan in a faithful adaptation. In the last ten minutes when this film finally gets its identity that’s something remotely close to Peter Pan and actually does something decent, he is really good in the role. He is just completely failed by this script, and he is a pretty decent young actor. I really felt for him because I think he deserved a better movie and his performance is the only reason I would consider seeing a sequel if this film ever got one, because I want to see him do a traditional Peter Pan.
Now lets talk about the film aesthetically. I am going to mention this straight away. I saw the film in 2D, the 3D performance at the cinema in my area were way too out of my schedule so I couldn’t see them, and I will say this right now, I think this film is probably going to play better in 3D than 2D. Many of the effects are clearly designed for the 3D showings and are very much at the expense of the 2D screenings, which means I think this film is not going to have a strong life on DVD. I have always said 3D is very good but don’t have it be at the expense of people who haven’t got the ability to see it in that format. As much as I would recommend the 3D version is probably better, I’m still not sure after reading this review I would be willing to pay close to £40.00 for a whole family to gain 4 x 3D glasses and tickets for a sub-par movie, so frankly as much as I think some of the film’s effects are at the hinderance of the 2D version, I would still say don’t bother spending too much money on this film’s 3D version, especially considering that the 3D glasses help towards the film’s Box Office taking and frankly I don’t want this film to succeed at the Box Office. What’s more the CGI really varies. It goes from some absolutely brilliant CGI that brings to life some incredible design choices to some really awful ones. Especially the Neverbirds! They look like they would be rejected from a Play Station 2 game, that’s how bad rendered they were and the design choice also was awful. In fact let’s get into some of the designs. Neverland looks really good in this version. There are some cool ideas like ships bouncing between massive bubbles in the sky, the mine while completely out of place in the Neverland story at least looks desolate and foreboding and I did like the village in the Fairy Kingdoms. In fact the designs are so good they really deserved a much better movie for them. It doesn’t change the fact, however, that this film looks like it was almost entirely shot in front of a green screen and I think people are beginning to get tired of that. What’s more, there are a lot of things that aren’t put to brilliant use and that’s mainly at fault in the action scenes. The action scenes again vary from the pretty good like some of the fights between Tiger Lily and Blackbeard to some of the ones that are not that well shot! Ok the Trampoline flight was completely ridiculous but this is especially evident in an earlier fight between a Spitfire and a Flying Pirate Ship which as awesome as that should be, it’s so poorly shot and cut that it is very difficult to tell what is going on. This also throws up a massive issue because the ground forces completely acknowledge now that this is actually happening, which means there is virtually no chance that Neverland is just made up of children’s dreams like other incarnations have suggested. I think the biggest problem though is the fact that these action scenes are not done to the best degree, in fact Peter doesn’t really contribute to many of them. Granted it would have been very difficult to train Levi Miller to do actual combat with Hugh Jackman and it had the propensity to go horribly wrong, but I still think there are ways that could have gotten around it and it takes away from the swashbuckling adventure that this is supposed to be, but isn’t. Who doesn’t remember some of the comedic fight scenes from the Disney version, or Hook. Man, I am trying to find some positives here, but the only thing I am getting at is that the film has some cool designs and I kind of like this version of Neverland, too bad the rest of the film is just not there!
Pan isn’t the worst film I have seen this year, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not very good at all. The characters don’t feel recognisable or endearing. The plot is really too over complicated for what it is supposed to be and never really feels like a Peter Pan film until the last 10 or 15 minutes and it’s plagued by some horrible miscasts! It really feels like a giant missed opportunity because I think this generation is ready for a good Peter Pan story, but this really doesn’t work and will likely sink the character for quite some time. Warner Bros are clearly intending for this to be a franchise starter, but this is such a lazily put together family film that I don’t think it will endure any sequels, this really felt like a get them in, get them out movie and the only thing it had going for it was the fact that the film had a well designed version of Neverland. That is it! The rest of the film is a drag and it feels incredibly boring to sit through and that’s saying a lot considering this film has a fight scene between a Spitfire and a Flying Pirate ship. How do you make that boring?? Oh, and whoever suggested putting Nirvana and The Ramones into this movie in the way they did, really needs to rethink their line of work!
This really does feel like the sort of film that would come out in January rather than half term if you do have kids and they can’t wait till December for The Good Dinosaur or March for Kung Fu Panda 3, take them to Hotel Transylvania 2. while it’s a downgrade from the first it was at least more entertaining than this ever was
So what are your thoughts on Pan, have you been to see it and did you agree with me? Remember to leave a comment if you have an opinion on this film and remember, go back into some of our archives. Our archives have all the films I have reviewed for the site. Maybe you have bought something on DVD that I have reviewed earlier this year when it came out in the cinema.
I’m not going to leave a question this week; instead I am going to simply ask what your thoughts on Hook were. I prefer that movie miles more and it is one of my favourite Robin Williams’ performances. I would really like to hear other peoples thoughts on that film as well, even if they don’t match up with my own.
Right, next Friday we will be one day away from Halloween, so it needs to be a good horror movie or a ghost story, so on October 30 I will be reviewing Guillermo del Toro’s “Crimson Peak”.
Thanks for reading this review, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed making it, despite the fact I had to sit through an awful movie to do so.
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