Imaginative setting, strong first half can’t save “Pan” from mediocrity

Charles Liu

The problem with prequels is they explain too much. The “Star Wars” prequels ruined the magic of the force by giving it pseudo-scientific origins. “The Hobbit” films took too many detours from the main plot to set up the events of “The Lord of the Rings.”

Hollywood’s obsession with prequels has now infected the Peter Pan property with “Pan,” directed by Joe Wright and written by Jason Fuchs. It tells the origin story of the boy who never grows up, and it does so in an annoyingly generic fashion.

Peter (Levi Miller) begins as a London orphan, obsessed with discovering what happened to his disappeared mother (Amanda Seyfried). One night, he is kidnapped by pirates in a flying ship and stolen away to Neverland. There he becomes a slave to the tyrannical pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), who rules a legion of miners searching for the fairy dust that grants Blackbeard his immortality.

Unmistakably alien, yet colorful and inviting, Neverland makes a strong entrance into the film with an introduction that highlights the land’s wondrous, whimsical creatures and terrain. Wright and Fuchs also defy expectations with Blackbeard’s first scene — he leads his slaves in a rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It’ll raise eyebrows, but it also underscores the incongruous nature of the setting he inhabits.

When Peter accidentally learns he can fly, Blackbeard realizes the boy is the figure prophesized to end his reign and imprisons him. Peter and a young Captain Hook (Garrett Hedlund) later escape the mine and encounter a tribe of natives in the wild.

The native princess, Tiger Lilly (Rooney Mara) urges Peter to fulfill his destiny and defeat Blackbeard, but Peter will have to overcome his own fears in order to save Neverland.

Anyone can guess how this “Chosen One” story will play out from there because it’s been done many times before, and it’s been done better, too. The dull, paint-by-numbers screenplay devolves into a mess of overused clichés after it hits the halfway mark and never again matches the energy of its opening action numbers. The exposition bogs down much of the dialogue, as Peter is forced to listen to reveal after reveal about Neverland’s historical events.

Miller and Jackman are the two standouts of the cast. Miller exudes likable boyish charm, while Jackman chews scenery with his devilish grin. Mara is passable, but Hedlund’s turn as Hook is bizarre. He evokes an awkwardly-forced Texan accent and often leans toward the camera as if he’s trying to wink but can’t.

Admittedly, it’s exciting to see Peter and Hook develop their friendship because we know where they’ll end up, but the suspense lies in how they get there. Hook is introduced as a roughish, Han Solo-esque character with a heart of gold, lending him an aura of tragedy. But “Pan” leaves that story for a possible sequel, doing little more than nudging and winking at the audience about darker events to come. It’s frustrating that the filmmakers would set up a more interesting tale with such an uninteresting one.

Strong production values and an energetic first half can’t elevate “Pan” from formulaic blockbuster territory. The film fails to embrace the more exciting facets of the Peter Pan lore and poorly emulates stronger pictures. Unlike its titular character, “Pan” grows old very fast.

Title: “Pan”
Director: Joe Wright
Running Time: 111 minutes
Score: 2/5 stars