Happy thoughts are hard to conjure while watching Pan, a needless prequel to J.M. Barrie's fantasy about an ever-youthful boy who could fly.
Director Joe Wright's movie barely gets off the ground, and gets old quickly.
Pan attempts to fill in Peter's back story, before he earned the Pan surname by saving Neverland's fairy population from extinction at the hands of a wicked pirate. No, not Captain Hook; he's a good guy here, who has somehow seen his share of Indiana Jones movies, judging by Garret Hedlund's distracting Harrison Ford impersonation.
The pirate here is Blackbeard (huh?), played to the rafters by Hugh Jackman, seeking the mother lode of Pixum dust those fairies are sitting upon. Pixum keeps Blackbeard eternally young, and paranoid about a prophesied flying boy who'll kill him. That can't be Peter, who's scared of heights and dyslexic for no good reason.
Peter is played by newcomer Levi Miller, and once again Wright knows young talent well, after introducing audiences to Saoirse Ronan in Atonement, and Carey Mulligan in Pride and Prejudice. Miller is an easy-to-cheer presence with a bright future, if offered better material than screenwriter Jason Fuchs provides.
Initially Wright's movie is just odd enough for interest, with its World War II setting when Peter is left at an orphanage by his mother (Amanda Seyfried). Reuniting with her is Peter's dream, and a dark theme throughout. A Luftwaffe attack on London is interrupted by Blackbeard's flying, flame-throwing pirate ship, with bungee-jumping buccaneers snatching orphans from their beds. So far, so strange.
Then Pan starts betraying its lack of such distinctive ideas. Peter's growth into his role as Chosen One is just another superhero origins story. Neverland is an island of lost boys mining Pixum, singing Nirvana and Ramones songs like refugees from a Baz Luhrmann anachronism. Hedlund enters, channeling Ford as rakish James Hook — the pirate part would come in a sequel we won't have to worry about. Indian princess Tiger Lily is cast racially awkward again, with Rooney Mara now the whitest on record.
Coming on the banana-slipping heels of NBC's Peter Pan Live! and Finding Neverland on Broadway, Pan suggests that Barrie's fantasy has outlived its usefulness as a mass marketed property. Perhaps it'll be set aside by producers, left solely to stoke the imaginations of readers. Now there's a happy thought.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.