Adventure, Family, Fantasy
On the occasion of the arrival of a lumbering load of steampunk-drenched, whimsy-drained wrongheadedness disguised as family entertainment known as “Pan”—someone is really baiting headline writers with that pun-ready title—let us ponder this conundrum: Why do filmmakers continue to feel the need to squeeze all the joy and magic out of such a remarkably enduring figure of Edwardian-era make-believe as J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan?
The whole “I won’t grow up” ethos of this aerodynamically gifted lad resonates today as proven by NBC’s live presentation of the stage musical version last year. But many current movies and TV series are already rotten with lost boys who act their shoe size instead of their age. Who needs another “Peter Pan” movie when you have the man-child-riddled oeuvres of Judd Apatow, Joe Swanberg and the Duplass brothers?
Then again, not even Steven Spielberg could resist squeezing Robin Williams into the role of an adult Peter in the midst of a mid-life crisis in 1991’s “Hook.” P.J. Hogan laced his big-budget visit to Neverland in 2003’s “Peter Pan” with a dark undercurrent of Freudian sexuality, including a bombshell Tinker Bell. And, in 2004, Marc Forster's “Finding Neverland” turned its sentimental spotlight on Barrie himself and his unconventional (and somewhat questionable) relationship with a sickly widow and her gaggle of sons.
But none of those efforts are quite as difficult to sit through as “Pan.” Every once in a while, a movie comes along that is so punishing to one’s mental and physical being that the narrative should be divided into rounds instead of acts. Add in dizzying 3-D effects and a booming sound system, and the pummeling can be rope-a-dope exhausting.
Granted, British director Joe Wright has shown a knack for enlivening literary classics such as “Pride & Prejudice” and “Anna Karenina” with stylish camera techniques and visual verve. But while he can do action and romance, as proven by "Atonement," he has never shown an affinity for full-out fantasy despite the once-upon-a-time elements in the girl-assassin thriller “Hanna.” And, with "Pan," he still hasn’t.
To begin with, the very premise feels off. Peter Pan isn’t a superhero and doesn’t really need an origin story, especially one that opens at a London orphanage for boys during the Blitz and borrows heavily from the “Oliver Twist” handbook. Peter the chubby-cheeked foundling becomes Peter the spunky 12-year-old in quick measure, and he is played by one of the film’s few assets, Levi Miller. The Australian native, a one-time Ralph Lauren model, exhibits a flair for comic delivery and handles the derring-do rather well. But he can’t save a sinking ship—or should that be a stinking ship?—all by his lonesome.