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Hollywood is always on the lookout for potential franchise material. It’s not enough to have story for just one film. Studios now need to be able to stretch them over two, maybe three, possibly four installments so that they can make as much money as possible.
With Pan, Warner Bros. probably thought that they’d hit the jackpot. Here’s a world that’s rich with possibilities, and a character who has had a long and storied cinematic history that dates back to Disney’s 1953 film, all the way up to Steven Spielberg’s Hook, while there are numerous other adaptations dotted in there for good measure. If done right, there was the chance that Pan could be the first of many adventures that take us further and further into the new origin stories for Peter Pan, Hook, Tiger Lily and the gang.
Unfortunately for Pan, though, it ultimately falls flat because it spends too much time teasing for the future, rather than enthralling in the present.
Its budget of $150 million fails to glisten on the screen, and you’re left feeling bitterly disappointed with the film’s rather lame action set pieces and hurried and chaotic plot. There’s still some little droplets of magic in there, with Joe Wright bringing Neverland to life in a vibrant and luscious fashion. But it’s not enough to make up for the movie’s various discrepancies that render the film underwhelming.
Pan is a brand new origin story for the character of Peter Pan, acting as a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s first Peter Pan story. The film begins in the midst of World War II in London, where Peter Pan (Levi Miller) is kidnapped from his orphanage by a Neverland pirate ship that takes them back to the magical kingdom.
There he is instantly forced to mine for pixie-dust by the evil ruler of Neverland, Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). After befriending a young James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), Peter Pan suddenly finds that he has some rather impressive abilities, and sets out on an adventure throughout the world to discover links to both his past and future.
To Pan’s credit, it consistently takes chances that other family-aimed blockbusters wouldn’t dream of. It's just that not all of them work. Each of its leading actors are encouraged to be as over-the-top as possible (something that only really Hugh Jackman thrives at), while its use of modern songs will almost certainly deplore more rather than adore. There’s an overriding positivity to the production, which is exuded through debutant Levi Miller, who gives a strong and magnetic leading performance. Director Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna, Anna Karenina, Pride & Prejudice) maneuvers the camera in a terrifically carefree manner that provides a fun and sprightly energy, while he also creates a luscious world of bright, captivating colors
It’s just that Pan fails to fill its gaps with a plot, characterization or action sequences to match the director’s visual energy. There’s a hollowness and lack of cohesion to Pan that suggests it’s been inspired by a theme-park ride instead of the impressive history that it has at its disposal. Sure, the opening journey from a grey war-torn London to Neverland is spellbinding, and the magical world is always lovely to look at, with Wright making sure that the film bounces from one exotic location to the next. But Pan never jolts into full-blown excitement. Instead, it always seems to be holding something back, hoping that people will want to stick around for another film to find out what.
Peter’s pursuit to learn more about his mother doesn’t grab at the heartstrings. Hedlund’s Hook isn’t anywhere near as funny or charismatic as the film thinks he is. Mara showcases some impressive action chops, but is rather stagnant as Tiger Lily. This leaves Jackman to gloriously eat up the scenery with his hammy, but nevertheless sensational, villainy.
And while Wright does a sterling job making Neverland truly bewitching, the film struggles with its action set pieces, which start impressively and then slowly deteriorate. Its final sequence is so rushed and chaotic that you’re unable to remain invested, and you’ll feel like you’re being flung out of the cinema.
Ultimately, while Pan is lackluster, there's enough spectacle and entertainment in it for the family to shrug with satisfaction at the end. But, come the roll of the credits, you won’t have any enthusiasm to see further adventures from the ensemble. In fact, by the time you're home you'll have probably forgotten all about it. A waste.