Mysteries abound in the latest Peter Pan adaptation. Of course, the biggest mystery is for whom this film was made.
Your guess is as good as mine on that front, but if the PG rating is any indication, this one's for the whole family. Good news is, most of us have happily forgotten the 2003 Peter Pan film adaptation starring Jeremy Sumpter as Peter and Jason Isaacs as Mr. Darling / Captain Hook. Hollywood has taken advantage of that fact to grace us with a prequel. This time, director Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna) tackles J.M. Barrie's boy who won't grow up. He endeavors to show us how an orphan named Peter becomes "Pan," not only the familiar fun-loving wiseacre who's tight with fairies, but the prophesied savior of Neverland's native tribes. Pan opens in wide distribution Friday.
The movie begins not unlike another beloved story about an orphan boy with a messianic future. Peter is unloaded not at the Dursleys, but at a London orphanage, where he is lorded over by an ogrish nun, Mother Barnabas. When Peter is 12, in the thick of WWII, Mother Barnabas conspires to sell her stock of boys to pirates from outer space, a business transaction that's better left unscrutinized.
Peter is whisked away, in a daring aerial escape over London, to the mines of Neverland. There, the world's orphans have been enslaved by Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) to search for magic crystals that contain the dust of immortality. The mines are not the leafy Neverland of 1953's Disney version; these are somewhere between Wild Wild West and Tatooine. In one of the film's more perplexing moments, the sea of miners greets Blackbeard with a chorus of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Blackbeard is sort of an Immortan Joe figure, but the history of his war with Neverland's tribal peoples, and his secret love for Peter's mother (who turns out to be a legendary warrior), to say nothing of the inclusion of popular 20th century music, is, again, never quite clear.
Much like The Phantom Menace and other notable prequels, Pan attempts to show us famous characters in their youth. Here we have James Hook (Garret Hedlund) as a cowboy heartthrob, unsuccessfully channelling both Heath Ledger's Joker and Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey to create an over-the-top presence whose motives (and whose presumable descent into evil) remain shrouded in mystery. We also get glimpses of Smee, known here as Sam Smiegel, humorously portrayed by Adeel Aktar, and Tiger Lilly (Rooney Mara), who attempts to subtly communicate a growing affection for Hook but is derailed time and again by Hedlund's antics.
The young Levi Miller, as Peter, is charming on screen, and treats us to most of the movie's sentimental moments. Jackman, too, is commendably daft as the pirate king. The production team deserves credit for doubling down on the flying pirate ships and generating a few action sequences that closely resemble video game commercials, and should, as such, distract the youngsters from an utterly convolved political backstory. Most of the plotting is just extremely messy, and the result probably will fail to hit any sort of demographic sweet spot.