“Pan,” as no critic reviewing Joe Wright’s latest movie can resist noting, is not just the surname of a famous flying boy who wouldn’t grow up. It’s also a verb, an instruction that the first reviews of Wright’s revisionist take on the Neverland mythos take to heart. Wright, by most accounts, is not to blame, except perhaps for signing on in the first place: The fault lies with Jason Fuchs’ script, or with the very idea of trying to produce a quasi-“grounded” prequel to the classic J.M. Barrie story, with Peter (Levi Miller) as a London orphan and a not-yet-commissioned James Hook (Garret Hedlund) as an Indy-esque adventurer who falls under the spell of the notorious pirate, Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). The idea of turning flight-enabling pixie dust into a street drug called Pixum reeks of midichlorianism, and despite turning Tiger Lily’s tribe multiracial, casting Rooney Mara in a part that’s at least nominally Native American still goes down rough with some reviewers.
Wright gets high marks for his technical prowess — there are, as usual, mobile long takes galore — and Jackman sinks his teeth into his over-the-top role. But it would seem there’s little magic left in Neverland, and little reason beyond a balance sheet to tell this oft-, and previously well-told tale again.
“Pan” opens October 9.
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
In possession of a title that, for many critics, will undoubtedly seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy, “Pan” hatches an entirely unnecessary origins story for a wonderful tale that has already been held up to the light from many different angles. Oddly repositioning Peter Pan’s emergence to the World War II era and employing a barrage of sophisticated special effects to produce no magic nearly as enchanting as Tinkerbell flickering back to life in the musical stage version, this strenuous undertaking was obviously made in the hope that the global audience has an unending appetite for anything set in Neverland. But just as P.J. Hogan’s similarly grandiose and ambitious Peter Pan surprisingly flopped in 2003, this one may also be headed for a low-altitude flight.
Andrew Barker, Variety
The director displays his typical formal virtuosity and keen eye for young talent here (Aussie newcomer Levi Miller is assured in the title role), but it’s not enough to enliven the depressing dourness of the film’s worldview. Positioned as a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s classic Peter Pan stories, “Pan” swaps puckish mischief and innocence for doses of Steampunk design, anachronistic music, a stock “chosen one” narrative and themes of child labor, warfare and unsustainable mineral mining. Ironically, Wright had previously proven intuitively capable of tackling a fractured fairy tale: In 2011’s “Hanna,” the director took a violent, adult-themed action film and cleverly invested it with enough Brothers Grimm elements to make an intoxicatingly strange brew. Here he takes an actual magical children’s tale and imbues it with the most hackneyed of contemporary fantasy-action tropes, and the inverse combination does not possess nearly the same thrill. It’s also odd how little fun screenwriter Jason Fuchs has reimagining this universe; even the pairing of future adversaries Hook and Peter fails to pan out in any memorable ways.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
Miller is bright-eyed, engaging and empathetic, eschewing kid-actor cuteness for genuine camera presence; I was reminded more than once of Christian Bale’s youthful debut in “Empire of the Sun.” Mara, although miscast, is one of the film’s few adult performers resisting the temptation to play to the third balcony, and there are a handful of interesting visuals, from giant flying crocodiles to a school of mermaids who all happen to look like Cara Delevingne. But oh brother, what this movie gets wrong: Jackman never finds an appropriate balance between humor and menace; his villain is just annoying and creepy, while Hedlund seems to be channeling the most overbearing moments of James Coburn and Jack Nicholson. The film’s visual palette is also grotesque, operating in two modes: Sickly and Washed-Out (during which it resembles one of those grim period pieces where all the characters have syphilis) or Blindingly Prismatic (with rainbows shooting helter-skelter all over the screen). Wrap all that up in a John Powell score that’s trying desperately to sound like John Williams’ Greatest Hits, and the result is a thoroughly unpleasant experience.
Robbie Collin, Telegraph
This is all refreshingly out of step with to the usual prequel MO, where the stage-setting for the original work can be so fussy, and the narrative so heavy with various omens and foreshadowings, that in and of itself, the new film can be as good as meaningless. (Which was what went wrong with Sam Raimi’s “Oz the Great and Powerful” – and, arguably, “Star Wars” Episodes I-III.) Instead, “Pan” just tells a rollicking story of its own, without worrying too much about getting the pieces in place for Barrie’s own work, or the much-loved Disney animation it also inspired. Occasionally things get a little overcrowded, particularly during a sticky final act, but Pan has a certain timeless buoyancy that keeps it bouncing back. It’s a tale full of trapdoors, hidden switches and secret passageways, where flashbacks are told through animated wood carvings, and fairy dust is buried in its bedrock. The phrase “an eight-year-old could have thought of it” sounds like it should be an insult. But it isn’t here.
Simon Reynolds, Digital Spy
There are so many great creative flourishes on show – such as characters exploding in puffs of vivid color and the detailed CGI landscapes of Neverland – it’s just a shame the whole feels less than the sum of its parts. All that considered, when Pan is firing on all cylinders it’s a fun and exhilarating ride that’ll likely hit home with kids who’ve never experienced Barrie’s world before.
Sarah Ward, Screen International
Miller and his better-known fellow players mimic the film’s spirit rather than its story, and the young thespian proves up to the task of shouldering the lead and offering up a more nuanced turn than his co-stars. That Jackman and Hedlund come across as theatrical and cartoonish fits the prevailing mood, the former conveyed with sly menace and the latter with wry glee. And despite the controversy surrounding her casting, Mara acquits herself well as the fiercely determined Tiger Lily, though the character has a mixed impact. There, she reflects the fate of “Pan” itself: deftly made and diverting for young audiences but unlikely to linger, with any vibrancy tempered by the familiarity of the tune.