Friday, October 16, 2015

Pan Review

I do enjoy the concept of Peter Pan, though I've found the book and most of the movies it inspired to be subpar. Then along comes an unnecessary prequel movie that no one was asking for; Pan (2015). It certainly takes some creative liberties; Pan raises some questions no one thought to ask, introduces more of Neverland which we'd never thought to wonder about, and shows us events which don't make a lot of sense considering its source material. But on the other hand, it shows us some genuinely good scenes and some fantastic special effects.
Peter (Levi Miller) is a tiresome golden-child orphan in second-World-War London. But the nuns who run this orphanage are selling off their charges to Pirates who drop from the ceiling on bungee cords and pluck them from their beds before stowing them aboard an airborne galleon to Neverland. Head of the Pirate's exploits is Captain Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), who imprisons Peter and the other boys as slave labor to mine for Pixum; a rejuvenating substance with magical properties. Peter meets a fellow minor named James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and his accomplice, Mr. Smee  (Adeel Akhtar). The three steal one of Blackbeard's flying ships and escape into the forest where they are found and nearly executed by the natives before the Chief's daughter, Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), notices Peter's pan flute pendant, left to Peter by his mother (Amanda Seyfried). The natives decide that Peter is their people's greatest hero, the legendary Pan. As part of his heritage, Peter should have the ability to fly, but lacks the ability to do so. Peter, Hook, and Tiger Lily race to reach the hidden Fairy Kingdom to enlist the help of the fairies to defeat Blackbeard before Blackbeard, himself, launches an attack to destroy all the fairies.
The story here has little rhyme or reason to it. It's a prequel for the sake of a prequel, and prequels notoriously anger fans and bore audiences. Sure there are images that herald back to the original Peter Pan, but it's all mashed up, weird, and inaccurate. It's like an origin-myth reboot of the Peter Pan story from studio executives who don't care how it got booted in the first place. And then for good measure, they shoehorn some steampunk where it has no business being, not unlike 2011's The Three Musketeers. Sure, there's some neat scenes, but the story raises questions no one was thinking to ask and then doesn't even bother answering them all. The story is very bland, by-the-book re-imagining of a classic story that was simply not called for.
On the other hand, there are some really neat scenes in Pan that probably couldn't have occurred without this particular twisted take on the classic story. One of the earliest action scenes involves Peter and a few other boys being abducted by a flying pirate ship in the middle of World War II London. Naturally, this draws the attention of the British air force and an exciting aerial battle between a cannon firing galleon and World War II fighter planes ensues. This scene was incredible! Later when making their escape from Blackbeard's clutches, Peter, Hook, and Smee rotate their flying ship upside down and have to cling on the ships rigging to avoid falling hundreds of feet to their deaths. That was another truly fun scene that probably couldn't have been done in the original setting.
The camera work was above average. Granted, a large portion of this movie had to be filmed in front of a green screen. So many of the impressive wide shots of detailed scenery were mostly impressive thanks to a large number of busy CGI artists. I think that in order to emphasize Peter's lack of ability to fly, there are a number of scenes that showcase some dizzying heights. The shots in those scenes were probably more impressive in 3-D. There were a number of scenes that made me stop and simply appreciate how well organized the shot looked, despite how bland the story is and how CGI intensive it is.
Ignoring the fact that nuns are in cahoots with pirates from another world, Pan does some weird things with its characters. James Hook is a miner in Blackbeard's mines, he's got an awkwardly fake cowboy accent, and seems to be a dreadful amalgamation of Indiana Jones and Slim Pickens from Dr. Strangelove. How this Stetson-wearing steampunk cowboy eventually becomes the infamous dreaded Captain Hook, I'll never understand. In what looks like it could have been a deleted scene from Mad Max: Fury Road, thousands of grubby slave-worker youths mine for Pixum while singing along to the rock band Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from their album "Nevermind." (Get it?) This is just as bizarre and out of place as watching some medieval peasants sing Queen's "We Will Rock You" in A Knight's Tale. Sure creative liberties were taken, but golly, some of them are just so weird it makes the movie hard to swallow. To be fair, though, it was a pretty good cover of Nirvana's song.
Of the many things I can rant about the Pan movie, the one that bothers me the most is how "The Natives" were handled. The orignal book has a tribe of wigwam-dwelling Native Americans who live in Neverland and are referred to by the author as "Redskins" or the Piccaninny Tribe. In what is possibly the best known rendition of Peter Pan, Disney's 1953 animated movie has these characters depicted in the most embarrassing of racial stereotyping and political incorrectness. To avoid risking such racial profiling, "The Natives" in Pan were a cluster of multiple racial backgrounds, and instead of living in wigwams, their culture seems to be inspired by Polynesians and the tree dwelling Ewoks of Star Wars. There are Asians, blacks, whites, pacific islanders, Hispanic, and middle-eastern people making up The Natives. Of course, the one Native that we're meant to be concerned with (Tiger Lily) is white, which ends up being another example of whitewashing in the film industry in spite of obvious attempts to appear multi-racial and politically correct. Pan seems to be trying to show us how open minded it is with the natives and falling flat on its face.
Pan does have some good scenes here and there, but overall it's a weak attempt to start a franchise specifically made in hopes to make sequels. The movie raises questions no one thought to ask about a solid, well-established piece of literature, and then doesn't bother answering them. This was probably in hopes of tackling them in a sequel. Pan has done so poorly in the box office and with critics that I doubt there will be one. Sure, the movie takes a generous number of creative liberties, but it retains the adventurous spirit of the classic tale and finds a few bursts of magic in its treatment of classic characters, though not enough to offset the rushed plot and GCI-fueled action. Some scenes I think are worth seeing on the big screen, but not at full ticket price; get a matinee ticket if you can. If you don't really value the big screen experience as much, wait for it on home video.

What is your favorite Peter Pan-inspired movie? Comment below and tell me why!

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