J.M. Barrie purists will froth at the mouth at the temerity of it all but taken in the spirit in which it was intended this origins story is an energetic family adventure.
Like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, this prequel to the classic story is really about a child trying to make sense of a cruel, unpredictable world by escaping into fantasy. German bombers rain hell down on London during the Blitz and Peter’s (Miller) orphanage doesn’t escape the bombing. But unlike the Pevensie children, Peter’s ‘evacuation’ is not north to the country but second star to the right and straight ahead until morning: Lying in bed one night, he and other boys and whisked away on a floating ship by pirates to work in the mines of Neverland.
Putting the kids through their paces is the half-mad despot Blackbeard (an enjoyable Jackman), who is feverishly searching for pixie dust so he can rejuvenate his ageing body. Helping Peter escape this prison is a fellow slave who hopes to get off the island and back home. His name? James Hook (Hedlund), a daring Indiana Jones type with both hands intact…
Jason Fuch’s screenplay is of the tried and tested fantasy formula – there’s a prophecy about a kid/kid doesn’t believe he’s the prophecy/kid is the prophecy – but where it smartens up is its exploration of when a child’s innocent worldview turns to something more cynical. In short, when a child becomes an adult. Peter finds that the rules of the adult world are inconsistent (“Enemies begin as friends, friends become enemies…”) and grownups, who are supposed to keep children from harm, are actually hell-bent on putting them in it. The random destruction of the Blitz and WWII filters through to this fantasy world, with the floating pirate ships not unlike the German bombers and the mine invoking images of a labour camp. The young Peter, his confusion compounded by his dyslexia, struggles to make sense of it all.
The colours are vibrant (despite the 3D dulling them somewhat) and Joe Wright keeps things moving at a rollicking pace. However, so caught up in the brisk plotting, Pan can gloss over some fan favourites: Tink and the other fairies are reduced to a bit part, Smee (Adeel Akhtar), or Sam Smiegel as he’s called here, is surplus to requirements, Cara Delevingne’s mermaids have nothing to do, and the (giant) crocodile has only one scene. The hint of a romance between Tiger Lily (Mara) and Hook is icky and the chant-along Smells Like Teen Spirit and Blitzkrieg Bop feel out of place.
But Pan is enjoyable … if it’s allowed to be.