Review: PAN (2015) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Friday, 9 October 2015

Review: PAN (2015)

This big-budget prequel offers nothing new in term of its origin story, but packed a punch as a rousing action adventure.

The magical story about a boy who can fly and never grows up has been told in numerous cinematic incarnations. The best example of all was the 1953 Disney version of PETER PAN, which widely considered as one of the best animated classics of all time. However, the live-action versions ranging from Steven Spielberg's HOOK (1991) to P.J. Hogan's PETER PAN (2003), were both creative misfires that failed to capture the enduring magic of J.M. Barrie's original creation. Now comes a big-budget prequel of PAN directed by Joe Wright, who is best known in acclaimed movies like PRIDE & PREJUDICE (2005), ATONEMENT (2007) and to a certain extent, HANNA (2011).


Peter (Levi Miller) is a rebellious 12-year-old boy who has spent his childhood living at the London orphanage ever since his mother (Amanda Seyfried) left him as a baby. One night, Peter as well as some of the other boys from the orphanage is kidnapped by a group of pirates. Soon, they are transported to a magical world known as Neverland. Ruled by a pirate leader Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), the boys are enslaved in the Pixum mines to dig for pixie dust. Peter's adventure begins when a fellow slave named James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) planned to escape the mines with him, especially after he finds out about his ability to fly. Together with Hook's buddy Smee (Adeel Akhtar), Peter and Hook commandeer one of Blackbeard's flying pirate ships and flee into the jungles. They subsequently encounter a tribe warrior named Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), who gradually reveals about Peter's unique past as well as his ultimate destiny of becoming the one and only Peter Pan.


Likewise, Wright's vibrant showmanship is put into good use here. His direction is brisk and full of vigour, which in turn, helps to keep the pace alive. It is also interesting to see how Wright incorporates certain scenes with highly-imaginative animation to tell the flashbacks using objects including tree stump and underwater.

Some of the technical credits, including Seamus McGarvey and John Mathieson's energetic camerawork as well as Aline Bonetto's lavish production design, are all top notch. John Powell's score hits all the right note that fits the criteria of an action-adventure genre like PAN. 

Hugh Jackman's wildly over-the-top performance as the pirate leader Blackbeard is right on the mark. Garrett Hedlund brings rugged charm to his Indiana Jones-like character as James Hook, while Rooney Mara shows great physical agility in her feisty performance as Tiger Lily. Adeel Akhtar, in the meantime, provides decent comic relief as Smee.

But the actor that impresses me the most in this movie belongs to Australian-born Levi Miller. Although Miller already had prior acting experience in short films as well as a television series called Terra Nova, it was his role as the mischievous Pan that hits a breakthrough. No doubt this is Wright's best child-actor discovery since Saoirse Ronan in ATONEMENT.


The elaborately-staged and action-packed finale on the flying pirate ship is a testament of how Wright has proven himself as an accomplished action director since HANNA.


Although there are several notable technical accomplishments, PAN is inconsistent in the visual effects department. Given a hefty budget of US$150 million, some of the effects look surprisingly dated such as the scene that takes place in the outdoor setting of the Pixum mines.

The movie also suffers from a bizarre choice of soundtrack. For instance, there is a scene where the pirates chant Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit upon the kidnapped boys' arrival to Neverland. Don't get me wrong, I love Nirvana and Smells Like Teen Spirit is no doubt one of the greatest rock songs I've ever heard. However, the song sounds strangely out of place in this movie. It's like as if Wright is trying to go the MOULIN ROUGE route where characters sing to the tune of a popular song, but falls flat due to its erratic approach.

Jason Fuchs' screenplay, which explored the origin story of Peter before he becomes the legendary character we all know as a child, is ambitious but lacks freshness. Problem is, PAN feels like one of those typical origin stories involving destiny and prophecy that we have seen many times before.


At the time of this writing, PAN has already hit a lowly 27% in the Rotten Tomatoes. While I agree there is a fair share of flaws in this movie, I found out that PAN isn't as bad as I thought. Frankly, it's enjoyable to watch for.

* This review is written courtesy from Warner Bros Malaysia press screening *

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