Director: Joe Wright
Stars: Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman
2 (out of 5) Globes
“This isn’t the story you’ve heard,” crows the tony narrator in the opening minutes of “Pan.” Oh, but we’ve heard that line before. At this point a straight-up “Peter Pan” adaptation — like “Peter Pan,” from 2003 — would be more daring than yet another origin story, which, alas, is what this tricked-out, lavish fantasia is. Besides, you have heard this story before, even if it’s a patchwork of other, mostly non-J.M. Barrie entities. Here, our pre-forever young Peter (Levi Miller) is both a brooding sadsack out of a DC comic book movie and that hoariest of adventure cliches: the “chosen one.” The familiarity doesn’t end there. When Peter is literally air-lifted from a Dickensian orphanage to far-off Neverland, he’s greeted by an anachronistic sing-a-long, just like in “Moulin Rouge.” In fact it’s so just like “Moulin Rouge” the song is “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which was already on “Rouge”’s playlist. But hey, that film is 14 years old, so fair game.
Still, imitation — even blatant ripping-off — isn’t in and of itself evil. Quentin Tarantino has built a rich career out of playing movie DJ, taking influences and quotations and mixing them together into something wholly his. “Pan” isn’t quite so savvy, but at its best it has a sumptuous, nutty extravaganza with constant distractions and a rampant insanity that smacks of its maker, Joe Wright. The director once used to loosen a couple corset strings in period pieces (“Pride & Prejudice,” “Atonement”) before letting his freak flag fly in “Hanna” and the busy “Anna Karenina.” “Pan” isn’t as drunk as “Hanna” nor as exhausting as “Karenina,” trying to meld a classic, Disney-style storybook charmer with an LSD-inspired craziness.
And “Pan” gets pretty weird. There are pirates (one of them dressed like Sly Stone) on bungee cords and a dogfight between RAF planes and a flying pirate ship. Later comes a tussle on a massive trampoline that feels airlifted from another misjudged Pan movie, Steven Spielberg’s “Hook” and — surely the CGI trade’s oddest job since “The Polar Express”’s elfin Aerosmith — the sight of multiple mermaid Cara Delevingnes. “Pan” jams so much into its not-too-swollen confines that even finding feeling that doesn’t feel Hallmark proves tricky. There’s traces of darkness in Peter’s own quest, which is to find the in-fact loving mother (Amanda Seyfried, glimpsed in obscuring shadows made worse by your dim 3-D glasses) who was forced to abandon him before returning to Neverland. This has a pleasantly grim outcome not seen in children’s films since the days of “Time Bandits,” but the film has no room nor the capacity to slow down to honor it. Wright spends more time on another recreation of 2001 cinema, copying the shot from “Pearl Harbor” that follows a deployed bomb during its entire descent.
There’s only one major stand-out, and it might be “Pan’”s weirdest flourish. Garrett Hedlund plays Hook, not yet a Captain and not yet a villain and is in fact — along with Rooney Mara’s joyless Tiger Lily — Pan’s friend and cohort, as he escapes from and battles with dastardly Blackbeard. (Jackman, by the way, is having fun, though he rarely gets a chance to do more than ham.) Hedlund graduated from bland rent-a-hunk in his early days to an actor who’s done — in “On the Road,” “Inside Llewyn Davis” and the otherwise forgettable “Country Strong” — a pretty mean version of retro laconic. His Hook, more often referred to by his normal first name, James, is on one hand an old timey cowboy. On the other hand, Hedlund gives him a larger-than-life voice and what appear to be big fake teeth. It almost sounds and looks like he’s doing a John Huston impersonation, moving his mouth in the same overemphatic manner as he draws out all his vowels in a jazzy sing-song. What a John Huston impression is doing in a Peter Pan movie, even a somewhat unusually surreal one like this, is beyond all sense, but it gives the film a goofy shot in the arm that delights more than any of its wildly expensive trinkets.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge