I grew up on Steven Spielberg’s “Hook,” so Peter Pan has always held a special place in my heart. The moment Robin Williams flew for the first time will be etched in my childhood forever. Unfortunately, no amount of nostalgia can wipe away the eyesore that is “Pan,” Hollywood’s futile attempt to re-imagine the legend for a new audience. They provided lavish production value. They assembled a lively cast of movie stars and character actors. They even hired an auteur director in Joe Wright. Apparently none of it mattered, because “Pan” is a shrill and uninspired affair with that cornerstone of banality “the one” driving its narrative, a surefire cinematic crutch for the new millennium and no longer an enduring or endearing archetype.
Young Levi Miller is cute and wide-eyed as Peter, an orphan saddled with the revelation he might be this so-called “chosen one,” the prodigal son spoken about in a Neverland prophecy. Naturally, local natives and the fairy kingdom are at war with the evil pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), and Peter and a swashbuckler named Hook (Garrett Hedlund) are caught in the middle. Contrary to recent criticism, the much ballyhooed white-washing of Princess Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) is unfounded as it turns out her entire tribe is a boiling pot of various races and ethnicities. Mara is still miscast though, her frail, delicate demeanor here not exactly translating to the part of kick-ass warrior princess. Jackman is mirthfully loquacious as Blackbeard, obviously relishing these villainous opportunities, and he’s surrounded by flamboyant makeup and costume design that resembles a demented circus more than the pirates of our youth (or the Caribbean). Hedlund winks a lot and tries hardily to approximate Indiana Jones, but a forced accent and heady-handed foreshadowing don’t do him any favors. With little to no real hint of the villain to come, Hook’s role is lip service, an excuse to throw around corny jokes regarding the bad captain’s future self.
There are some moments of visual splendor, such as a weightless adventure in space and the image of pirates rappelling from the sky to snatch up their intended victims. However, Wright’s eye for pretty pictures is overshadowed by a shaky command of the innumerable action set pieces, many of which involve the complex task of choreographing epic battles between flying pirate ships. From sometimes murky photography to painfully evident green screen, his inexperience with big-budget spectacle shows to an almost embarrassing degree, and there’s something dubious about a pirate movie where the pirates never touch the sea. Miller’s adorableness and Jackman’s ghoulishness notwithstanding, “Pan” is a colossal failure for Warner Bros and a far cry from the warm essence of “Hook.”