Look. I get it. “Pan” is a bad movie. That much was clear from the trailers. The easy thing to do right now would be to jump on top of the hate pile with all of the other critics and waggle my fanny all about in a sexy, celebratory manner. Because even though “Pan” may be bad, it’s the kind of bad that forces you to set up the critical equivalent to bumper bowling in your brain so that the weird, very ill-considered film could awkwardly lurch down the hardwood lane of your subconscious without sliding into the gutters of negativity. And believe me, the urge to be negative is overwhelming. The word ‘pan’ is right there in the title. It’s ripe for all kinds of ass-shatteringly hilarious headline puns like, ‘Panning “Pan”’ or “Frying ‘Pan’” or ‘Garbage “Pan”’. But when a film amounts to a Cirque du Soleil stage show adaptation of “Mad Max: Fury Road” after it was filtered through a United Colors of Benetton ad from the mid ‘80s, you can’t help but applaud every dumb, inexplicable idea that gets farted up on screen.
Ostensibly, “Pan” is an unnecessary prequel to J. M. Barrie’s somewhat staid children’s classic “Peter Pan”. But in reality, “Pan” is something far different and far more interesting. It appears to be the tired, ‘chosen one’ trope of Harry Potter and its ilk seemingly reworked by a disturbed hospital janitor whose screenplay amounted to a mural – that spanned his entire studio apartment – depicting Dickensian street urchins being thrown to their deaths from a floating pirate ship by leering nuns and something that looks like an other-worldly fusion of Jack Sparrow, Queen Victoria and Gary Oldman in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (as played by Hugh Jackman). “Pan” is such a bizarre, compelling disaster, I don’t know where to start. Should I start with the fact that when we first see Peter Pan (Levi Miller) he’s stuck in an orphanage that’s run by evil, peg legging nuns who covertly trade their youthful charges to clown pirates for gold doubloons and marmalade? How about when Peter first arrives in Neverland and he’s forced to sing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as he slaves away in a fairy dust mine? What about Jackman as the dandified pirate Blackbeard who’s addicted to fairy dust and huffs it in order to stay perpetually young?
And we haven’t even scratched the surface. There’s so much more to talk about. Such as the terrifying, brightly plumaged skeleton birds that the film mistakenly believes are whimsical, the fact that this is set during WWII for no reason other than to have a scene where vintage fighter planes attack a floating search light equipped galleon and Garrett Hedlund’s decidedly odd take on Captain Hook who’s a lot like Han Solo if he was played by a crab unsuccessfully masquerading as Jimmy Stewart. Have I mentioned that “Pan” is insane? About a billion times? Well, make it a billion and one because “Pan” is insane.
Like Gore Verbinski’s much-maligned “Lone Ranger” reboot, Joe Wright’s “Pan” feels like the end result of a filmmaker burning through clout he barely has and will never have again. Best known for mannered dramas like “Atonement” and the comparatively less bizarre “Hanna”, Wright’s “Pan” is a franchise tent pole made by someone who’s trying his damnedest to throttle the series while it’s still in the crib. Strangely adult yet still childish in occasionally cloying ways, the most suitable audience for “Pan” isn’t children but for those bold enough to go to the movies with whiskey smuggled deep inside of their stomachs and cheeba hidden away in their lungs. But don’t worry, all of you sobers out there will enjoy “Pan” too. But understand the cheeba/whiskey combination does help make sense of all of the floating fish, electric mermaids and CGI Amanda Seyfrieds you’ll encounter in “Pan.”
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller, Garrett Hedlund
Director: Joe Wright
Weekender Rating: WWW1/2
Length: 1 hr 51 mins.