Reviewed by: Jack Dawson
The kindest thing I can say about Pan is that it reminds me of the Mad Max series, whilst not being one fraction as good as any film from the franchise. The first half hour is full of manic energy and creative anachronisms, the cast is dotted with several Australian actors and aesthetics, and like the infamous Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, everything falls apart when they come across the lost tribe of annoying natives who buy into a nonsense prophecy. But it’s still pretty good fun, and it’s probably the best movie out for younger kids at the moment. Compared to Pixels at any rate.
Pan is the origin story of Peter Pan, which has nothing to do with the origin that the original book set out, and which relies on a prophecy that proves that Peter is the most special boy out of the dozen other special boys on screens right now. He’s kidnapped from an Orphanage during World War 2, and is taken to a Pirate work camp where they mine Fairy Dust. Shenanigans ensue, as does Redface, resulting in as happy an ending that can be managed when we know all of the characters will return to violent murder attempts after the end of the film’s events.
On balance, I wouldn’t say that this was a terrible movie, there’s too many enjoyable performances and too much effort put in to incidental details like flashbacks for me to think that poorly of it. Hugh Jackman consumes the scenery like it’s going out of style, Garret Hedlund turns in an enjoyable performance that seems entirely composed of rasping and titling his head to the side, and it should be said that newcomer Australian actor Levi Miller turns in the best performance of the film, responding perfectly to every given situation with such finesse that I’m excited to see where his future career will take him. Even the evil Nuns from the beginning of the film are fun to watch, so much so that I was cackling at some of their hammier moments.
There’s only one real flat note among the cast, and it’s the role that has caused more than one person to object to this film before its release.
In fairness, this role was always going to be a problem, as it’s kind of difficult to spin a racist caricature of Native Americans in a society where that particular trope was discredited some 50 years ago. So the film tries to circumnavigate the problem by removing any reference to said Native Americans, turning the local tribe of Natives into a non-descript group comprised of several different nationalities, whose clothes and buildings are a hodge-podge from all corners of the world. It’s actually a pretty decent idea, and it’s an effective way to cast a Native American actress in the role without playing to offensive stereotypes.
At this point, all they’d need to do was not cast…
Joe Wright, Director of the film, described the Tribe as a group of “indigenous people who were fighting against the colonialist rule of Blackbeard.”
With that in mind the decision to cast a white actress becomes even more baffling, compounded by the fact that Rooney Mara isn’t very good in the role. It’s not her fault, the script gives her little more to do than to repeat the importance of the chosen one prophecy, and try to appear charmed by Hook’s advances.
The only thing that could have salvaged the role was the casting of a non-white actress that at least would have cemented the narrative of resistance against an occupying power, as well as giving non-white actresses (who tend to get a raw deal in Hollywood) an opportunity to reclaim a troubled role.
And after a rather excellent first half hour, the movie really starts to slow down. The aforementioned prophecy plot device is one of the laziest I’ve seen in some time. There’s not even an attempt to put an interesting twist on it, just the bog-standard deal that we’ve seen hundreds of times before.
And the conclusion is not only sappy, it’s false to the fickle and impulsive Peter Pan of the original book, who would laugh at his own death as he would at the deaths of others. With a more interesting or disturbing story, closer to the inventive tone of the beginning of the film where hundreds of Slaves chant the lyrics of ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ while floating Pirate ships creak in the sky above, this could have been a really interesting film.
As it is, it’s just better than Pixels.
It’s a little saddening to think that the most likely legacy of this film will be its tone deaf racial politics, given the bombastic performances and some cool set-pieces. But when the next controversy over whitewashing in Hollywood comes along (Hello Stonewall my old friend), you can bet that this film will be on people’s minds.
And if nothing else, this is the best time of year for Trailers. In the build-up to the Summer Blockbuster season, the trailers can sometimes be more entertaining than the films themselves.
And with September being a slow time of year, best to just breathe deep, and think a happy thought.