Our tale begins in London during the Second World War, where Peter (Levi Miller) is living at an orphanage, only to be magically, and unwittingly, spirited away on a flying pirate ship, to the magical kingdom of Neverland. Befriending fellow captive Hook (Garrett Hedlund), Peter soon catches the eye of the nefarious leader Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) who realises what he’s up against when he learns that Peter can fly – dreading he may be the young boy to fulfil the prophecy that will see a child start up a revolution against the tyrannical pirate. Peter, however, is more concerned about potentially being reconnected with his mother, seeking the help of Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) in tracking her down.
Wright certainly captures that spirit and tone of Peter Pan, just with the punk-rock feel of the Lost Boys, their haphazard outfits and unorthodox hairstyles. It’s a notion perpetuated by the filmmaker, with his almost Rocky Horror Picture Show inspired aesthetic (without all the spandex), while the inhabitants of Neverland can be heard singing popular, alternative tracks in unison, such as Smells Like Teen Spirit and Blitzkrieg Bop. It does feel contrived in parts though, all a bit too keen to show off its creativity. Like a drama school stage show where they strive to do something “quirky” with Shakespeare. It’s not the first time Wright has been accused of this shortcoming in his work either, as his Anna Karenina adaptation was also too stagey and overtly theatrical too.
What Wright is without, however, is the one character who makes this perennial tale so wonderful – Peter Pan himself. As we’re exploring this world from the early years, before Peter became the character we know and love, we’re without that playful, charismatic literary creation. While an origin story has its positives – mostly in that it’s a unique approach to this narrative, our eponymous protagonist is blissfully naïve to what’s going on, looking on in wonderment when learning of his destiny. As a result be comes across as something of a cipher, a role that, in the classic Disney picture, belonged to Wendy – but she’s not nearly as absorbing nor compelling, so it didn’t ever matter.
There are times in Pan when you are left in awe of what you are seeing, with some remarkable visuals, and the occasional scene that will have you completely mesmerised. But regrettably such moments are few and far between, and as we progress towards the latter stages tedium kicks in. The entertaining opening act is replaced by a monotonous inclination for several lengthy action sequences, and though vibrant and striking, they make for a final act that will have you anticipating the quickest route out of Neverland possible.