In Pan, young Peter learns he can fly in the grimmest possible context — as he plummets to his presumptive death after being kicked, viciously, off a plank hundreds of feet above a rock quarry. In the new film directed by Joe Wright, Neverland lies high above the clouds as usual, but much of its real estate has been turned over to a miserable steampunk mining village in the Mad Max: Fury Road vein. Kidnapped slave boys dig for Pixum, also known as pixie dust. The precious glowing stuff provides the youth serum coveted by the pirate Blackbeard, played by Hugh Jackman in Kenneth Branagh’s Wild Wild West goatee, a pederastic air and Alastair Sim’s teeth.
Blackbeard’s war against the natives, a multicultural gaggle led by lily-white Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara, co-starring her midriff), grinds on in another part of this cesspool. Back on Earth, it’s 1940, and London endures the Luftwaffe blitz. But life’s no easier for an orphan boy in Neverland, where unlucky newcomers are greeted with a menacing male chorus of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.
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That’s a lot of lousy ideas crammed into the first 30 minutes. The whole movie’s like that. Reportedly a $150 million production, it represents a larger strip-mining operation: the pillaging of a durable but not invincible pop culture myth, born in 1902, when J.M. Barrie wrote of an infant version of Peter Pan.
For more than a century, various adaptations on screens and stages have asked if we believe in fairies. From Mary Martin to Cathy Rigby, we’ve heard one androgynous gamine after another singing about how she’s gotta crow. And now, thanks to Pan, in addition to the most awesomely unnecessary prequel in recent memory, we have the official worst-ever Peter Pan film adaptation of any sort. And that includes Hook.
In this origin story, Peter Pan and Capt. Hook are sort-of pals, not sworn adversaries. The digital crocodiles are whale-size. The digital effects are relentless and numbing.
The actors either do too much (Jackman) or not enough (Mara), with the exception of Australian newcomer Levi Miller. He brings a gravity and a relatability to Peter. Also, director Wright manages one effective moment, a clever and spooky medium shot of the first two London boys’ home residents captured by sky pirates at night. It’s only a few seconds; the rest of the film lasts approximately 12 years.
Cast: Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, Amanda Seyfried.
Director: Joe Wright.
Screenwriter: Jason Fuchs.
A Warner Bros. release. Running time: 111 minutes. Fantasy action violence. Playing at area theaters.