Monday, October 12, 2015


A cool images from "Pan," but it comes at the very end
All flash, no fun, in shipwrecked 'Pan'

Full disclosure: I went to see Pan with extreme prejudice. As someone who has cheerfully adulterated J. M. Barrie's classic for her own devices, I'm leery of anyone else trying to do the same. And I'm very possessive of the way "my" characters (let alone Barrie's) are portrayed onscreen.

I wish I could say I was pleasantly surprised by Pan. But it's even worse than I imagined, in every way that matters: a story that makes any kind of sense on its own terms, characters we're invested in who share a sense of camaraderie, fresh dialogue, and, you know, fun. Pan comes up goose eggs in every department, opting instead for insanely huge and irrelevant CGI effects that pummel the fun right out of it.

Director Joe Wright can do literary adaptations (the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice; Atonement). But Jason Fuchs' script is an ill-conceived origin story that makes hash out of the original's time frame and sensibility. Not that Barrie's world of perverse feral children isn't ripe for a little tweaking, but Fuchs' revision is a clumsy, derivative mashup that steals from other, better sources, like Oliver Twist and Star Wars.

Neverland tribes: don't call them native Americans
12-year-old Peter (wide-eyed newcomer Levi Miller) grows up in a London orphanage run by ferocious nuns. One night, during World War II, while the Nazis are bombing the city, Peter and some other boys are snatched up into a flying pirate ship that whisks them away to Neverland. There, they join the ranks of captive child slave laborers mining the caverns for "pixium" (ie: pixie dust), which pirate captain Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) has been using to rejuvenate himself for the past 220 years.

It's not much of a life for a pirate—no women, no plunder, and nothing to spend it on, so why he wants to sustain it eternally is just one of the many things that doesn't add up. Tipping on a precipice one day, Peter astounds everyone, including himself, by flying across the gorge; turns out there's a prophecy that Blackbeard will be defeated by a boy who can fly. This is big news to the native tribes that live in the lush greenbelt over the hill from the mine, who need to stop the pirates before they despoil the entire island.

Indiana Hook and the kid. Before it all went wrong
There was much ado in the media when Rooney Mara was cast as native princess Tiger Lily. But it's clear in the film that the tribes are not Native Americans, just a bunch of mixed-race exotics speaking in vaguely British accents.

Not so James Hook (Garrett Hedlund); in this version, Barrie's well-spoken Etonian is a blond American  laboring in the mine, spouting a line of trite, patently "cocky" dialogue that would make Han Solo cringe. He befriends Peter (Hook calls him "kid"), and they steal an extra pirate ship that happens to be floating around and fly off to join the princess in her fight against oppression.

Did I mention there's an entire flotilla of flying pirate ships hovering above the island? Why do they fly? Who knows, but evidently that's not what they're using the pixie dust for. But if every ship is airborne anyway, what's the big deal that Peter can fly?

Jackman: Darth Blackbeard
 The story of Peter's birth might have had some resonance, but it's told in a confusing underwater animation sequence that's too murky to understand. And the only reason for bumping up the time frame to the 1940s (from the turn-of-the-century original) is so one of the flying pirate ships can have a dogfight with the Luftwaffe. No, I'm not kidding.

You know a movie is in trouble when not even Hugh Jackman, stomping around in black leather as a sort of steampunk Darth Blackbeard, can liven things up. He cruises around in a flying ship whose figurehead is a massive sculpture of his own head in its pompadour wig, which is a funny image for a couple of frames, but the script never gives Jackman—or anyone else—an actual character to play.

Who is this movie is aimed at? Wright says he made it for his son, but it's hardly magical enough to enthrall kids (and it's way creepy when the pirate ships blast through the Fairy Kingdom with flamethrowers), while adults will feel bored and/or bludgeoned (often at the same time). The wheezy plot won't interest young hipsters—not even (especially) in 3D. It's a shipwrecked extravaganza for an audience that doesn't exist.

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