There’s no real way to put it politely: Pan is bad. It’s enjoyable on some level, but this is almost exclusively due to the fact that it’s tied to a bigger mythos, one that most of us grew up with, that of the original Peter Pan legend. But as this film stands, it’s a poor addition to the bigger universe.
From the get-go, it seems like the movie has a tough time finding its “voice,” what it wants to be presented as: is it a grandiose spectacle of visual imagination? Is it a touching tale about the power of family and belief in yourself? Is it a tongue-in-cheek action/comedy? It tries so hard to smush all of these tropes into one hour-and-fifty-one-minute film that it effectively manages to fail to excel at any of these options effectively.
Serving as a prequel to the entirety of the established Peter Pan mythos, Pan opens by showing the audience a young Peter in the oft-overused “baby in a basket left on the orphanage’s doorstep.” Peter of course grows up (played by Levi Miller), and live in the mid-1940s orphanage really sucks, as one would expect it does. When children start to go missing, Peter and his pal Nibs (Lewis MacDougall) investigate, and wouldn’t you know it, the culprit is pirates in a flying cutter, looking perfectly normal in the WWII mid-London-bombing night sky, as one would expect it does. The young lads are whisked away to Neverland, where they meet the rootin-est, tootin-est pirate in charge, the evil guy who controls everyone else just because that’s the way it is. Captain Hook? No, not yet – this here’s Blackbeard, played a little too over-earnestly by Hugh Jackman.
Blackbeard uses the boys for slave labor; he needs them to mine the caverns of Neverland in search of Pixum, a.k.a. Fairy Dust, which he hogs all for himself in order to sniff it and stave off old age. When Peter accidentally ends up flying (because reasons), Blackbeard believes him to be the messiah-type figure of an ancient prophecy, the boy who’s supposed to overthrow Blackbeard. (An “ancient prophecy?” How damn long has this guy been Head Pirate if there’s an “ancient prophecy” written about him?) Peter escapes, with the help of one James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and Mister Smee (Adeel Akhtar), who are (mostly) good guys now, and they hook up with Tiger Lilly (Rooney Mara) and the tribe of “natives.” Blackbeard comes calling, fighting ensues, and climactic-type things happen. As one would expect they do.
While presented in a fairly visually appealing fashion, the story is nothing new; it’s simply a bunch of action tropes and standard heroic plot points leading the audience from basic Point A to inevitable Point B. For as much as the film wants to be a part of the greater Peter Pan universe, it also takes extreme liberties with some of the already-established facts. Pixie Dust is now an age-reversing narcotic instead of a sparkly substance you could sprinkle on stuff to make it fly (speaking of which, how exactly do the pirate ships fly in Pan if not via the magic of fairy dust)? Neverland itself is traditionally shown as an island in a sea, but here we’re shown that it’s a floating super-continent that exists in a who-knows-where, don’t-bother-to-explain area surrounded by clouds and a few “water clouds” as well. An extremely thin line of rationale is given for why Peter can fly, and his quest for finding his mother, which drives him for the first part of the movie, is given an extremely unsatisfying and very rushed conclusion. Blackbeard, the “evil” pirate the pretty much rules Neverland, gets one of the all-time weirdest character introductions, that’s not scary or intimidating at all – and I hate hate HATE when movies use anachronistic music (upon Peter’s arrival, the group of Slaves are all singing Nirvana’s “Nevermind” for some ridiculous reason). The list goes on and on.
The film’s narrative seems to assume that viewers are familiar with the existing mythos of the Peter Pan story, which is an odd counterbalance to the fact that Pan doesn’t seem to add anything of value to it. You’ll expect big things from your viewing of this movie; while it’s not necessarily terrible as a standalone film, you’ll likely be left with a very hollow feeling when you try to mentally connect Pan to the bigger story that we all know and love so well.