Pan messy, weird

To say nothing else good about Pan, it is the final affirmation of Hugh Jackman’s utter magnificence. In a movie that drains the life from its other actors, Jackman is a dervish of energy and charisma and even a little bit of menace every time he hits the screen. Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

When Pan’s Labyrinth got pushed back from a July 24 release that it surely would have dominated to do re-shoots, it was clear something was very wrong. Now that the movie’s come out, it’s more clear than ever, but it’s still not clear what that wrong thing is.

The ostensible origin story of Peter Pan begins with Peter (Levi Miller) dropped off at an orphanage in 1930’s London, because all fairy tales must be set in England, by his mother, Mary (a dreadfully wasted Amanda Seyfried). After a cut to the dog days of World War II when bombings were a daily occurrence in the city and a weird storyline with Peter’s best buddy, Nibs (Louis MacDougall), and a nun who was hording all the rations, Peter and the other orphans are abducted by pirates and brought to Neverland to work in Blackbeard’s (Hugh Jackman) fairy dust mine. During what was supposed to be his execution for insubordination, Peter discovers that he can fly and that he is the prophesied savior of the fairies who will kill Blackbeard.

Pan has a lot of these set pieces that seem at first glance like they’re creative and unique, but only really outlandish if the viewer fills in the blanks with his imagination. This isn’t to say viewer imagination has no place at the movies, but it should be to extend an already complete story, not fill gaps. There shouldn’t be gaps to fill.

There are a lot of things about Pan that aren’t necessarily bad, but are really extremely weird. The only thing to notice that relates directly to the idea of re-shoots and this movie being sloppily remade into something else is the scene in which Peter first flies, when James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) says, “Well I’ll be darned,” but clearly mouths “I’ll be damned.” This is a telling edit, but I’m not sure what exactly it tells us. For one thing, the word “damned” is just fine in a PG movie and clearly not the difference between that rating and PG-13, so there’s no real reason to cut it. Second, the fact that someone thought they could get away with that obvious of a dub in an English-speaking movie instead of re-shooting the line or simply cutting away before Hook said “damned,” sets a precedent for extraordinarily poor decision making in the final cut. Maybe there wasn’t enough footage to cover it — again, they had weeks of re-shoots, that’s even less of an excuse than it normally would be — maybe someone actually decided that nobody would notice, we may never know. There’s nothing that glaring in the rest of the movie, but whoever had final edit on this should never have it again. William Hoy, an editor with more than 25 films to his credit, and Paul Tothill are the credited editors.

There’s a handful of things that were clearly intentional, but make no sense. Blackbeard is apparently obsessed with 20th century grunge, having his slaves sing “Smells like Teen Spirit” to Peter’s ship as it arrives and “Blitzkreig Bop” to him as he’s about to be executed. It’s eerie, but more than anything it’s just out of place and weird.

The traditionally racist Indian tribe is more racist than ever, with the pastey white Rooney Mara cast as the leader, Tiger Lilly, and a stereotypical, Far Eastern Kung-Fu specialist on hand to fight Hook, while the rest of the tribe is a bunch of people of indeterminate race wearing red body paint, creating a skin tone that does not occur in nature. This is actually kind of a neat idea, trying to go through the story’s racial problem instead of around it, but that means not letting the leader stay conspicuously white. It’s not like they could cast actual American Indians for the roles, there aren’t really enough of them left — happy Columbus Day, boys and girls!*

Also, remember how Tiger Lilly was Peter’s age and love interest in the 1953 movie? She’s now Hook’s age and love interest in this movie, and Hook is Peter’s pal. It’s weird.

The pirates come down through the ceiling in the exact way a bomb that should have killed Peter and Nibs would have, so it’s pretty obvious, to me at least, the plot is really Peter died and went to Neverland, where all his dreams about really being special and his mother eventually coming back for him come true. So, yeah, the exact plot of Pan’s Labyrinth, if you skip all of that movie’s good parts.

Peter’s central motivation is to unravel the mystery of why his mother left him, and partway through the movie it’s revealed, and it’s weird — Mary was “The love of Blackbeard’s life and his most prized possession,” but Peter’s father, a fairy prince, came into her cell and either seduced her or fell in love with her or raped her, it really is unclear between those three things, and then whisked her away to the real world when she became pregnant. So, one of three things seems to be going on here — either Mary was Blackbeard’s rape slave, or she cared for him as well and the prince is a rapist/kidnapper, or this was a legitimate love triangle. It’s unclear which is most likely, but in any case it’s haphazardly glossed over and there’s a significant chance Peter’s father is actually Blackbeard.

The casting choices are also pretty bizarre. Bad movies tend to make average actors look bad, and Mara looks pretty bad here, but Hedlund looks awful. He’s trying to be campy and serious at the same time and doesn’t pull it off in any way shape or form, though that’s probably because the role is so awful. His only previous headlining role is 2010’s TRON: Legacy, in which performances were a point of criticism. Mara makes poor use of similarly poor lines, but her bad performance is highlighted by the presence of Seyfried, oft overlooked but one of the most talented actresses working now, limited to just a couple of scenes, as well as Carla Delevingne in a weird non-speaking role as all of the mermaids.

Ultimately all the weird and not good reasons this movie stands out don’t really matter. Even if it were cleaned up, it would still be an edgeless, flat affair designed primarily to distract children with set pieces that aren’t really that imaginative. The trip to Neverland is updated to include outer space, but in the end it’s just random things rendered on the screen with no rhyme or reason. The massive action sequences are boring and don’t make any spacial sense — it’s hard to feel tension for the tight spot Tiger Lilly is in when she’ll magically appear somewhere else in the next shot. CGI is used liberally in these sequences, and it is definitely not up to 2015’s animation standards.

Even without its sore thumbs, Pan is exactly the kind of lazy, effects-heavy romp that people have grown tired of blockbusters because of.

Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Yeah, give Webb more time — he’s clearly got something valuable to say. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

*That’s right, they didn’t just move a blockbuster away from prime late July real estate, they moved a story that has traditionally marginalized American Indians to Columbus Day weekend. Don’t think too hard about it, clearly no one else did.

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